The federal budget announcement brought to boil a long-simmering epiphany: if we rely on governments to redistribute wealth internationally, it will never happen. It also raised questions of whether foreign aid is actually what most Australians think it is. Perhaps, if we wish for a culture that gives 0.5 per cent of its gross national income (GNI) to alleviate poverty, we must create it ourselves.
The Federal government had committed to increase foreign aid from 0.35 per cent to 0.5 by 2015-16. The recent budget included the postponement of this commitment for a further year.
Though I was bitterly disappointed the Gillard government broke another promise by dumping the commitment to increase foreign aid to 0.5 per cent of our GNI, I was not surprised. Amongst the daily talk of the ´mining boom´ few words are spared for the miners of places like Bolivia, who earn a couple dollars a day and die in their thirties from a profession that dissolves their lungs and breaks their bodies. Though no one would deny we are all now connected by a global economy, no country is ready to make national economic decisions within the global context, that is to say, for the global good.
There are sound arguments that it is both a moral imperative and in our national interest to contribute to poverty alleviation, even on the most distant shores. At its most basic, the moral argument can be condensed into the question: Why should wealth or poverty be a lottery of birth place? History is also on the side of the moral argument, showing that one place is generally wealthy at the expense of another. Most of the world’s wealthy countries have grown off the back of usurpation of today’s poorer nations via colonial claims of resources, slavery and manipulation of governments. It was the mountains of silver and the slave-fed plantations of the ‘New World’ that gave birth to European capitalism whilst impoverishing the inhabitants of those rich lands.
It is often argued that poverty alleviation is not simply charity, but is in our national interest. Poverty drives conflict. Whether it is the Taliban of Afghanistan or the FARC of Colombia, it is poverty and inequality that makes recruitment easy. Though most Australians view foreign aid as charity, it is fundamentally the difference between the moral imperative and national interest that differentiates charity from foreign aid.
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