• Will aid be a priority at the next election?

    Posted by Jennifer

    2 April, 2013

    If you were to ask 20 average Australians to give you a list of their top 5 priorities when it comes to making a decision to vote, how often would foreign aid gain a mention? Having done this very experiment informally myself over recent weeks, I have quickly discovered that education, child care, jobs, immigration policy and other domestic priorities very quickly fill up this list for most people.

    Climate change policy may feature somewhere around number 4 or 5 for those who have an environmental inclination, but in very few cases will foreign affairs get a mention, let alone foreign aid. It is true that foreign aid currently accounts for only 1.5% of Government expenditure, so why should it be a priority? I would argue that in terms of its capacity to save lives and increase the quality of life for hundreds of thousands of people around the world, this money is some of the most important of all Government expenditure.

    With a Federal election scheduled for September 14th, Micah Challenge is committed to placing foreign aid high on the agenda of policy campaigning for all political parties and demonstrating that the Australian people do care about the quantity and quality of our contribution to the fight against global poverty.

    Unfortunately, foreign aid policy messages from candidates are often lost in the crowd of domestic policy debates and personal attacks and counter-attacks which frequently define election campaigns. However, this in no way diminishes their importance and it is up to the voters, i.e. you and I, to show our politicians that we genuinely care about what they say about foreign aid. 

    Two weeks ago, I was fortunate enough to spend two days lobbying at Parliament House in Canberra on behalf of Micah Challenge as a representative of the WASH reference group. We met with parliamentarians to discuss the importance of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) as an integral element in our aid budget. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the majority of those politicians with whom we met were well informed of the issues we were discussing, genuinely engaged with what we had to say and highly receptive to what we were calling them to do.

    From this experience, I came to appreciate that the situation of our politicians is not dissimilar to our own. Whilst they hold a genuine concern for those who suffer from poverty in our world, this concern can be easily overwhelmed by the sheer volume of domestic policy demands with which they are faced every day. It is therefore up to us to remind them of their responsibility, even their moral imperative, to maintain a focus on seeking justice by giving generously through foreign aid.

    Voices for Justice campaigners seek to put aid on the political agenda in Canberra (Sept, 2012).

    Ultimately, it is us, the electorate, to whom they respond. Therefore, Micah Challenge has just launched the 'action phase' of its Finish the Race campaign, through which communities in electorates all over the country will be calling upon their MPs and Senators to commit to finishing what we started in the year 2000 with the signing of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). We want to engage with voters across the country, encouraging average Australians to call upon their politicians to commit to a target of 0.7% of Gross National Income to foreign aid by 2020, an international benchmark which represents our ‘fair share’ in the global fight against poverty.

    As Christians, God calls us to speak out on behalf of those who suffer under the yoke of injustice:

    “Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:9 ESV).

    In holding our politicians accountable in their foreign aid policy, we are demonstrating our desire to see God’s justice achieved here and now in our world.  

    If we can build a movement of passionate supporters and ambassadors, perhaps we will see foreign aid feature more often on that top 5 list of election priorities of the average Australian. Don’t you think that would be a positive reflection of God’s justice in action?

    You can find out more about the Finish the Race campaign and all the ways in which you can take action with Micah Challenge at www.finish2015.com.au.

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    Jennifer Vaccari is the Political Engagement Intern with Micah Challenge.