• Legislating for Overseas Aid?

    Posted by Rachel

    12 July, 2013

    National politics has been unusually active lately. The politics of Australia's overseas aid has also been excitingly active.

    You would be forgiven if you missed what was happening in the Senate on Wednesday 26 June. All the media attention was on the Labor leadership spill that day. But it's worth taking a moment to highlight the Overseas Aid (Millennium Development Goals) Bill 2013, which was introduced into the Senate by NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon

    In her second reading speech of the bill Senator Rhiannon outlined how good aid works, “Good aid, spent well has helped reduce the number of people living in extreme poverty by 200 million over the last 5 years.” 

    The purpose of the bill is to ensure Australia keeps the commitment we made in the year 2000 when signing onto the Millennium Development Goals to give our fair share towards ending extreme poverty. Senator Rhiannon told of how Australia is well placed to keep our commitment in overseas aid, as Australia is ranked number two on the UN Human Development Index and has not suffered a recession in the past 2 decades. Yet we are ranked just 12th out of the 24 aid donor countries. The Senator said,

    “It is disappointing that Australia lags well behind the Millennium Development Goal target which asked countries to devote 0.7% of GNI to overseas aid by 2015. The Greens would much prefer to see Australia joining other countries to meet this 0.7% target by 2015, but ongoing cuts and set-backs to the aid budget mean that our government is far from reaching this target. What the Australian Greens want to do with the bill is put forward a responsible and realistic timeline for up-scaling aid, year by year, that we think Labor and Coalition MPs will be able to support. A timeline the government of the day cannot justify shying away from.”

    Woman leading a buffalo (Sunsari, Nepal)

    As with other international aid commitments, the Millennium Development Goals are not legally binding on Australia. This bill, if it became law, would inscribe “a legally-binding timetable for Australia to reclaim our place in the world as a progressive nation that seeks to give everyone a fair go.” The timetable outlined in the bill is for the Australian government to give 0.7% of our GNI by 2020-2021.

    The Senator went on to quote the voices of many Australians expressing support for overseas aid and its power to help alleviate extreme poverty. The voices of ordinary citizens.

    Voices like that of Joan from South Australia, who said, "Australia should be a leader in overseas aid so we can stand up and be proud."

    That is cause for celebration. We have been raising our voices for justice, asking our government to give its fair share in overseas aid to improve the lives of the poorest people on earth. As we press on to Finish the Race of achieving the MDGs, we are speaking out, we are being listened to and we are effecting change. 

    So take a moment to celebrate that Australia's overseas aid program is a subject for serious discussion and action in our Parliament. You may even like to drop a note of thanks to Senator Rhiannon via Twitter: @leerhiannon or email: [email protected]


    Rachel Colbourne-Hoffman is National Advocacy Coordinator with TEAR Australia. She is on Micah Challenge's Campaign Strategy Group.

    Photo credit: Prabodh Malla/UMN