28 March, 2012
It no longer really counts as news that Australia's Foreign Minister is former NSW Premier, Senator Bob Carr. But it's worth reflecting for a moment on what we are hoping and praying for from our new Foreign Minister.
Aid is only one part of the Foreign Minister's portfolio, but it's a significant and growing part of the Federal budget, and it is probably the policy area in which the Australian Government has the most direct contribution to make in the global effort to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and end extreme poverty.
The Australian aid program has been expanding in recent years and, by and large, has been becoming more transparent and increasingly focused on measuring its effectiveness. Senator Carr, in a recent radio interview, said that our aid program is "something that we can all be proud of". I couldn't agree more. On that basis, I think that our new Foreign Minister should build on the bipartisan commitment to lift aid spending to 0.5% of Gross National Income by 2015, and pursue lifting aid to 0.7% GNI by 2020. Sure, more aid is not necessarily better aid, but without the "more", there's a whole lot of good we leave undone.
On better aid, the Australian Government has recently affirmed that "saving lives" is a key priority for the aid program. Given all this, Bob Carr has the opportunity to make sure that the new capacity in AusAID, the larger budgets, and the renewed focus on the fundamentals of life – basic health and education – translates into meaningful investment in life-saving areas (particularly maternal and child health along with water, sanitation and hygiene which have not been adequately prioritised before now) and contributes to the global push to accelerate progress on the Millennium Development Goals.
In his maiden speech Senator Carr signalled that climate change is a clear concern and many of Australia's aid partners in Asia and the Pacific can share stories of the impacts that climate change is already having on poor communities. So I hope that Senator Carr will contribute to serious policy about how to promote human development in ways that don't rely on a globally heedless commitment to economic growth powered by fossil fuels, and which builds resilience against the extremes and hazards increasingly posed by climate change. I hope and pray that he brings a strong focus on sustainability – and on justice and equity – into all of Australia's diplomatic and aid relationships and into Government discussions. Christians who know that we live on a beautiful and finite planet gifted to us by God, and that abundant life is not about wealth, but about an abundance of sharing and generous concern for the poor, understand that we should "live simply so that others might simply live".
On a lighter note, we know that Bob Carr reads extraordinarily widely. If I had to recommend one recent book on international development and aid for him to read it would be Getting Better, by Charles Kenny. Written by a World Bank Economist and Center for Global Development senior fellow, it persuasively demonstrates that significant improvement in basic quality of life for the poorest people can be achieved even in the absence of economic growth and that aid can play a powerful part in these improvements. You can find the book on Amazon, and a whole discussion devoted to it here.
What other books would you recommend to our new Foreign Minister? And what other things do you think should be on his to-do list? Is there anything you are hoping and praying for?
Ben Thurley is the Political Engagement Coordinator for Micah Challenge Australia. Ben previously worked with TEAR Australia and has just spent four years in Nepal volunteering as an advocacy advisor to a local Nepali organisation.