SHOULD CHARITY ALWAYS BEGIN AT HOME?

Tomorrow, one of the world’s wealthiest nations will rob the poorest of the poor.

The Gillard Government reportedly plans to break its promise to increase aid from 0.35% to 0.5% of Gross National Income by 2015.

This is so it can return the Federal Budget to surplus by an arbitrary date to gain political points from the Opposition.

My, what a worthy cause.

I’m sure the two million people living in poverty will be heartened by the paltry price put on their lives.

This is the mother of all broken promises.

At the turn of the century, Australia agreed to join a global bid to halve the number of people living in poverty by 2015.

The initiative had bipartisan support.

John Howard promised to double aid in 2005; Kevin Rudd committed to reach 0.5% of GNI by 2015; Julia Gillard repeated the affirmation ahead of the last election.

While this falls well short of the target of 0.7%, every little bit helps when you’re living on rice and beans.

There’s a common misconception that Australia is a generous nation. But we rank 13th out of the 23 wealthy countries.

Even the struggling United Kingdom is about to reach the magic 0.7 mark.

It’s Pythonesque: A government of the Left ditching a policy to help those who are vulnerable, despite it being a vote-winner.

According to a recent poll by the Lowy Institute, the majority of Australians believe we should be giving more, not less.

World Vision’s CEO Tim Costello puts it into perspective: “Rich nations spend just one third of one percent of their income on aid each year. Global military spending was 13 times higher than all aid from wealthy countries in 2009, and more is spent on soft drink each year than aid for poor countries.”

Much of the criticism is coloured by xenophobia.

“We should help people who are doing it tough in our own backyard; charity begins at home,” is a common theme on commercial talkback radio.

But this argument is based on the assumption that an Australian life is worth more than that of a ‘foreigner’.

Sure, we have our own poor.

But there’s a big difference between being unable pay the power bill, and dying of dysentery because there’s no clean water.

The federal government knows this is a contentious decision.

So it’s wheeled out the spin king, Bob Carr, to massage the message.

Last week, the Foreign Minister released a statement proudly proclaiming,

“Australian aid has helped provide new water systems to more than 155,000 people in East Timor”.

ActionAid’s CEO Archie Law calls it “massive hypocrisy”.

“The point is that Australian aid saves lives. Do we really want to balance the books on the back of the world’s poor?” he asks.

International aid is estimated to have saved the lives of seven million children over the past 10 years, and halved the number of people living in poverty since 1990.

Critics say much of the money is siphoned off by corrupt dictators.

But grassroots aid, which empowers people to stand up for their rights, can combat corruption by investing in a free media, community accountability, and parliamentary structures.

I’ve seen first-hand how agencies like ActionAid and World Vision work with AusAID to make sure the money gets to those on the ground, in places like Bangladesh, Kenya and Uganda.

It fosters economic growth and regional security.

Australia earns around $130 billion annually through exports to countries that receive aid.

To me, it just makes sense.

If our neighbours are hurting, surely we should extend a helping hand? Whether they’re over the fence or on the other side of the world.

Last week, aid agencies sent an open letter to the Prime Minister.

It was signed by 150 high profile Australians, including Geoffrey Rush, Hugh Jackman and Malcolm Fraser.

Further weight was added by Bob Geldof, speaking in Perth last week: “My big ask is, just tell Julia to f*#k off on that one, will you?”

Reports over the past 24 hours indicate the pressure may be working.

If you want to join the campaign, use the hashtag #dontcutaid on twitter, or contact your local MP.

It’s time to speak up for those who don’t have a voice.