4 Questions Christians Ask About Foreign Aid

This blog is part of a series on how Christian believers can help to build a Safer World for All.  

The world is at a turning point. 

Maybe you’ve felt this yourself in articles you’ve read, conversations you’ve had, news reports you’ve seen. 

Instability and tensions are rising, and the world is rapidly becoming less safe. 

Two decades of progress in fighting poverty and building economic prosperity stalled when the pandemic hit.  

Now, overlapping challenges – the erosion of stability, economic disruption, extreme weather events – threaten to undo this progress and tip us into disaster.  

If we do nothing, today’s challenges will become tomorrow’s catastrophes.  

But the action that you and I take today – as Christian believers, as concerned citizens –can help put the world back on the path to progress, peace and prosperity.  

God has given a clear biblical mandate to care for the vulnerable… and that means doing all we can to stand up, speak out, and take action to build a Safer World for All 

Why should we speak up to increase Australia’s foreign aid? 

One of the key ways to build a safer world for all is through encouraging our political leaders to invest in Australian Aid to other nations.  

But is that biblical, or affordable? Should we leave government out of the equation and just get on with the job of helping our neighbour directly?  

Here are 4 questions that Christians commonly ask when it comes to increasing our foreign aid commitment – and why it’s so important that we can answer them in good faith. 

Can we afford to give more foreign aid?  

‘Can we afford it?’ is always a good place to start when it comes to matters of budget. The call of Safer Word for All is to…  

  • Double the Humanitarian Emergency Fund to $300 million annually for responding to new crises as they emerge 
  • Invest an additional $350 million per year to better prepare for mounting natural and humanitarian disasters
  • Lift Australia’s foreign aid budget to 0.37% of gross national income by 2027 with a bipartisan commitment to reach 0.5%. 

Those numbers seem big! Hundreds of millions of dollars?!  

But in perspective, these figures are possibly less than you’d expect.  

For instance, defence spending this year will exceed $50 billion for the first time.  

Australians are expected to spend $2.6 billion just on ice cream by 2026 – that’s 7.5 times the amount proposed for the humanitarian emergency fund!  

So it might be more helpful to ask the question: Can we afford not to give more aid?  

Because less foreign aid likely means weaker relationships, less influence, and less stability in our region, as well as more climate refugees, greater risk of conflict, and higher costs of disaster recovery. 

Investing toward building resilience in the face of these risks seems a good idea when you look at it that way.  

Put simply, Australians are a generous people and Australia is a wealthy country 

In fact, we are one of the wealthiest countries in the world yet our generosity as a nation is declining: right now, we are one of the least generous donors in the OCED, rated almost last on the OECD rankings for aid generosity (26th out of 31), despite being one of the richest.   

Australia’s foreign aid budget as a percentage of GNI is currently at an all-time low, projected to be 0.19% for 2024-25, well below the current OECD average of 0.37%, and it is predicted to get even lower.

And therefore, Australian’s are rightly shocked because their presumption (rightly!) is that we are a generous nation… and our low level of foreign aid fails to live up to expectations. 

Shouldn’t we give to the vulnerable ourselves? Why get the government involved? 

Yes, you and I absolutely should give to people in need! That’s a biblical practice with very deep roots.  

You no doubt know many Scripture passages that call us to care for others. One of my favourites is when Jesus is teaching his disciples in Matthew chapter 25. He tells them the story of his return as a good and just King, and he says:  

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matt 25:40) 

Jesus himself says that when we serve others who need help, we are serving him.  

You might notice when you read the passage that the examples of “aid” the King gives – visiting the prisoner, caring for the sick, and so on – are intimate, personal actions. Our love for others and our desire to serve Jesus should motivate us into personal action. 

So the answer to the first part of this question is a resounding yes! 

The second part of the question – Why get the government involved? – is a little more nuanced.  

Many objections to government involvement are well founded. Government can create unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape. In the worst cases, aid money can even be stolen or misused (more on that in a moment). 

But there is strength and scale in unity.  

When the Australian people speak up for aid given through government channels, it gives certainty to address the truly large problems that most not-for-profits or individual donations can’t. 

More than that, it unites us as a people and strengthens our reputation as a generous country.  

Bilateral aid (aid given from one nation to another) is also a powerful way to bridge cultural differences and form international partnerships. This is vital to strengthening peace and stability as the world order shifts and nations compete for power and influence. 

And it’s important to remember that government aid vs. personal aid is not an either/or situation. It’s a “yes, and” scenario!  

Put simply, there is a strong case for personal action and government action. Speaking up for one does not limit the other. 

Doesn’t foreign aid just get siphoned off or create corruption? 

Governments are far from perfect. You might not be shocked to read that! 

Even the best governments can be misguided or make decisions that inadvertently hurt more than they help. Sometimes, bureaucracy can be blind to real needs; sometimes governments can be outright corrupt. 

But the Australian Government has strict rules around how aid dollars are spent overseas – it is closely regulated, both nationally and through international benchmarks and reporting. It has more scrutiny than other domestic spending. Humanitarian agencies deliver in a way that is independent, demonstrating impartiality. Funding is delivered through multilateral organisations (like the UN and World Bank), managing contractors and NGOs with very specific metrics, standards and reporting. Australian NGOs are one of the best regulated in the world, largely through their decision to self-regulate at a high standard. 

The argument that corruption shouldn’t be tolerated – and it absolutely shouldn’t! – is an argument to stamp out corruption. It’s not an argument to stop giving aid for fear it might be misused.  

In fact, giving aid can help other nations to strengthen institutions, build independence and increase prosperity for their people. All of which are vital in the fight against corruption. 

Shouldn’t we take care of our own backyard first? 

This is a timely question, because there are lots of Australians in need right now.  

More families are asking for food support than ever before.  

First Nations communities need more support to ‘close the gap’.  

There’s a growing number of people (mostly women and children) living in cars and tents as the cost of living skyrockets.  

There’s a lot of work to be done! 

And if you’re looking for a biblical reason to get involved in that work, look no further than Jesus’ command to “love your neighbour as yourself”. That’s one of the two “greatest” commandments, as he described them in Matthew 22. 

Loving your neighbour can take many different forms. Many give to food banks or other vital charity services, volunteer to help in their communities, and give their neighbours a helping hand. It’s the Australian way! 

Yet our love is not restricted to those we see face to face. And our neighbourhood is not limited to our street, suburb or nation.  

When you stop and think about it, the call to increase our foreign aid is a modest one. If we were to give 0.5% of GNI to other nations, that means over 99% is spent on Australians, by providing for health, education, social services, defence spending and so on. 

Furthermore, our ‘bang for our buck’ is much greater in developing nations than it is here. The gains of keeping that extra 1% in Australia will be incremental at best… but giving it away will be utterly transformational where people can’t access health care, there is no social safety net or decent infrastructure. 

So, yes, we absolutely should care for our own backyard.  

Loving your neighbour is not an optional extra to Jesus. It’s a core component of following him and becoming more like him.  

But as we love the Aussies around us, we need to lift our eyes to see those in the wider neighbourhood who are struggling, too.  

What kind of a world do we want to live in? 

Perhaps the most important question for you and me to grapple with when considering our level of foreign aid is this: What kind of a world do we want to live in? 

Without action to address these burning issues and help our neighbours, we’re headed into a more volatile and dangerous world.  

A world in which hundreds of millions of desperate people migrate in search of safety.  

A world in which the rich try to insulate themselves… and the poor and vulnerable are left to fend for themselves. 

That’s not a world that Jesus would advocate for – and, as his followers, we shouldn’t either. 

Your voice is powerful.  

So I encourage you to speak to your family and friends, talk about it at church, and let’s get more of God’s people speaking up from a place of conviction and firm faith. 

Start by joining our campaign today to help build a Safer World for All!