• Coalition's aid announcement makes us question our identity

    Posted by John

    6 September, 2013

    Yesterday Mr Abbott, Mr Hockey and the Coalition announced a $4.5 billion cut to the foreign aid budget to fund roads in Australia.

    The response from the media and the public has been strong and swift. There are clearly many Australians who are committed to fighting poverty in all its forms. There are many who understand that we are dealing with the real lives of marginalised people, and not just the stroke of an accountant’s keyboard.

    This morning I read through more than 1200 emails that had already been sent through our site to Mr Abbott. The most striking thing for me as I read people’s comments is that this is now about more than the global poor (as if that isn’t enough). While the context is about foreign aid, it is now much bigger than that.

    We are now not only dealing with questions about our actions, but also with deeper questions about our identity. People are responding out of a deep disconnect between who we say we are as Australians (and aspire to be) and the current priorities of our nation.

    Clearly this has been driven in large part by the disconnect between Mr Abbott’s repeated promises to be generous to the poor and yesterday’s cuts from aid to fund roads.

    At the heart of the issue is the question of selfishness versus generosity. We say we are generous, but our actions demonstrate an underlying selfishness.

    I see a clear distinction between the responses I have read in emails and the actions of our would-be leaders from both the Major Parties. We’re responding passionately because being selfish doesn’t sit right with us. As I’ve read the responses, I’ve seen:

    Mums who are saying they would be willing to go without their $40-75,000 maternity leave payout if it meant that we could maintain our promises to the poor.

    People on low incomes suggesting they would be willing to go without benefits or pay more taxes if it meant we could support those who have no safety net.

    People in Melbourne saying they would be happy to sit in traffic on current roads for years to come to see basic healthcare and education provided to those who currently have none.

    The point again is, there is a disconnect between who we aspire to be and the actions that our leaders are taking on our behalf.

    We are concerned about what impact decisions like the one taken yesterday have on our national psyche and our national conversations. We cringe when our would-be Treasurer Mr Hockey is not able to articulate what level of wealth is a prerequisite for generosity. We’re concerned that we are turning in on ourselves.

    One supporter put it beautifully:

    "Do not embarrass us as a nation by cutting our help to the world's poorest people.... When we let our commitment (as one of the world's richest nations) to the poor slip, it simply serves to reinforce our own selfishness...giving to the poor is GOOD FOR AUSTRALIANS as it helps take our eyes off ourselves and gives us a sense of perspective...ie how blessed we are to live in a country where children do not die from lack of clean water or from communicable diseases. Shame on us all if we cannot even maintain the meagre offering we already give. IT IS FAR BETTER TO GIVE THAN TO RECEIVE. This may seem like a small thing in the midst of trying to balance our country's budget, but this speaks directly to the heart and soul of this great nation.....do not let us be greedy, but rather share some (very little really) of the good things we possess."

    We are at our best, as individuals and as a nation, when we practise generosity. It is only in the act of generosity that we learn something about the way of love.

    So again, I’m convinced that the strength of this response is not so much about the foreign aid cuts.

    This is a question of identity.

    Mr Hockey, as a member in your electorate, I am firmly behind your commitment to better management. I acknowledge that political leadership is difficult and choices need to be made, but don’t try to sell me a lie that I am not, that we are not, in a position to be generous. I am deeply concerned that my would-be Treasurer would so blatantly claim that generosity only comes out of abundance.

    There is much that we could learn from our brothers and sisters with little material wealth in the developing world about generosity, about community and about love/care for one’s neighbours.

    If we all drew lines in the sand and suggested we would only help our neighbours in need when we reach new heights of wealth, where would we be?  What kind of nation would Australia be if we took that approach to our community life? We don’t want that for our own nation, and we don’t want that for our world.

    To all our supporters, I want to thank you for your passion and commitment over the last 12 months as we have campaigned for Australia to do its fair share toward alleviating poverty around the world. You continue to inspire me even when our leaders do not. We have made some amazing strides forward over the last 5 years, but I also want to acknowledge your disappointment at the current positions of both major parties despite all our recent efforts. It is clear that our continued efforts are needed to protect and grow the foreign aid budget in this new Parliament.

    But my sense today is that once we get past Saturday’s election, regardless of the outcome, we must lift our eyes to a bigger goal. We need to change the conversation within our nation. We need to lead with our actions. We need to practise generosity and love for neighbour in our personal and community lives and work and pray for that same generosity and love for neighbour to be restored to our national identity.

    If you'd like to send a message to Tony Abbott click here.

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    John Beckett is the National Coordinator of Micah Challenge Australia.