• Public aid perceptions and Lowy's latest poll

    Posted by Steve

    30 June, 2011

    A quick scan of today's headlines reveals that European economies are struggling while the Australian dollar remains strong, Google is taking on Facebook, the Pope's on Twitter, and McCain's 500g Family Cheese and Bacon pizza has been recalled from supermarket shelves. But that doesn't really give us an accurate picture of what is going on around the world. Does it?

    Sometimes it's hard to know what is really going on in the world, and this is certainly true for Australia's aid budget as much as anything else. Do Australian's really know how much money is being spent on overseas aid, or is this story also being lost in the newsreel?

    A recent poll by the Lowy Institute reported that on average, Australian's think we spend about 16% of our budget on overseas aid. In reality, just 1.3% of the 2011-12 budget will be spent on aid (or just 0.35% of our Gross National Income). This demonstrates a drastic overestimation by those polled of how much Australia is contributing to the fight against poverty and efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. The Lowy Poll also stated that people believe that about 12% of the federal budget should be spent on aid - ten times more than the current amount.

    Regrettably, the true story of aid - both how much is spent and how effective it is - competes for those few precious seconds of media attention with headlines about sport, pizza and gossip. More often than not, the good news is being lost in spite of the wide public belief that we can and should be doing more.

    In recent months there have been some direct challenges to aid, suggesting that Australian's are not supportive of the Government's (and the Opposition's) plans to increase the aid budget to 0.5% of GNI by 2015. These arguments hold little weight when four out of five Australians think aid much higher that is really is, and that four out of five Australians think it should be higher than it currently is (as revealed in the Lowy Poll report).

    This is why the work of Micah Challenge, with the support of Christians in Australia, is so important. Working for justice for the oppressed includes challenging the myths that undermine our aid spending and threaten the good work being done. It equally means sharing the good news of the progress being made around the globe.

    This clip, from the ONE campaign in the United Kingdom, is a great example of this. It takes the conversation beyond "are we spending too much on aid?" and delves into the truth of the numbers and the real progress being made.

    Getting beyond the headlines and into the real stories of effective aid can be an immense struggle, but in God's strength we are up to the challenge.

    Steve Cooke works with World Vision's advocacy team and is a member of the Micah Challenge Campaign Strategy Group. He is passionate about helping Australian churches better understand the issues facing developing nations, and to make informed responses to poverty and injustice.