Keeping the Faith

Australia Shows Poor Form in Supporting the Poor

One billion dollars.

I find it hard to get my head around that figure when most transactions in my household are less than three figures. In case you’re right now trying to count how many zeros come after the one in 1 billion – it’s nine. One billion dollars is a ten-figure quantity.

When I (logically) asked my four-year-old what he could buy for $1 billion, he said, “A Stegosaurus. A big one. And a plant.”

I don’t doubt that.

If a paleontologist stumbled on the last living Stegosaurus and wanted to make some cash, maybe $1 billion would be a reasonable price tag (perhaps they’d throw in the plant for free). A T-Rex fossil affectionately known as Sue sold back in 1997 for a record $8.36 million.

Can’t say I was much enlightened (or surprised) by my son’s response. He has ODD… Obsessive Dinosaur Disorder. He’s a prehistoric fanatic, and they tell me it’s a phase…

So, I turned to Google and found an image of the sum. One billion dollars in $100 notes would fill 10 pallets. Those expensive little bricks might cover enough area to build a shed. Bucks and mortar!

This is what $1 billion looks like! Source: Pagetutor.

This is what $1 billion looks like in stacks of $100 notes! Source: Pagetutor.

But I still felt no closer to understanding.

You see, in the Australian Government’s 2015 budget delivered last week, $1 billion was slashed from foreign aid spend for the 2015-16 year and $3.7 billion over the next three years. This comes on top of the $7.6 billion in aid cuts outlined last year, amounting to a whopping $11.3 billion in the term of this government. So far.

Don’t worry, Tasmania scored $1 billion towards the upgrade of infrastructure and roads.

The dinosaur in the room is that while vulnerable people suffer, surely compassionate Australians cannot be placated with shiny new highways. Surely that Christian principal woven into the fabric of our society to uphold the cause of the vulnerable has not been lost.

“Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 82:3-4)

I picked up the phone and got Tony Milne on the line – executive officer of Make Poverty History, a group that has tirelessly lobbied for Australia’s aid spend to begin an upward trajectory. Maybe he could quantify the impact of retracting such a large sum from third-world countries.

“Australian aid is a fundamental part of who we are as a nation,” he said.

“Yet, despite aid being a sound long-term investment in millions of men, women and children in our global neighbourhood, despite helping millions become economically independent and self-sufficient, and despite only representing 1.2 per cent of total government expenditure, this government has cut aid again.”

Already, cuts to Australia’s foreign aid have had a measurable impact. Aid agencies have reported the following:

  • 10,000 children lost an education in South Sudan.
  • 8,000 people lost access to HIV mitigation in India.
  • 3,000 Solomon Islanders lost disaster relief training.
  • 2,000 vulnerable kids in Laos lost their schooling.
  • 137,000 children lost a protection project in India.
  • 45,000 kids in Lebanon lost healthcare.
  • 385,000 children lost a protection project in Senegal.

That ten-digit figure is coming into sharp relief now, and that’s only the start of it. Without $11 billion of Australian aid, the future looks more and more grim:

  • 1,424,796 children could be born without a birth attendant.
  • 2,237,280 children may not get to enrol in school.
  • 3,775,052 children may not be vaccinated.
  • 4,710,642 people may not get access to safe water.
  • 21,944,521 people in emergency situations may go unassisted.

A billion big ones is no longer 10 pallets stacked with $100 bricks. It is water, education, healthcare, shelter, protection and comfort. In short, it is life. Not sure about you, but I’m not well pleased with a government that would withhold life from the vulnerable.

The changes were announced just as Nepal sustained its second magnitude 7+ earthquake. How inconvenient, and yet a stark reminder why we need to increase foreign aid.

You see, when push comes to shove, the global poor, mostly out of sight and out of mind, don’t vote, not here anyway.


First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday May 18, 2015.

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13 Comments

  1. The instruction to defend the weak doesn’t include a clause that indicates this role should be subbed out to the government. Once you do, there is no personal sacrifice involved; charity and welfare are not the same.
    Far better to encourage a generous people than a generous government.

    • Sure – I agree, and I do. But we vote the government in, and we must surely keep it accountable. If I vote for a party because of their commitment to increase foreign aid, for example, then it makes sense that I lobby for that commitment to be kept.

      • True, but cuts to foreign aid were mooted repeatedly prior to the election. Also, this moves the issue from government generosity to government accountability.

      • Generosity is your word, not mine. I would call it responsibility to our global neighbours. But these are technicalities. Do you think it’s ok for Australia to keep cutting its foreign aid budget?

      • Absolutely. On the other hand, I also think that we should as a people encourage one another to care for others — both locally and internationally — less fortunate.

  2. Bishop John Harrower says

    Thank you, Claire, for your well crafted article and call for our nation to assume it’s role as neighbour.

  3. Hi Claire,
    What is your position on providing vaccines to children in thirdworld countries (or children anywhere really) that have been made using cells taken from aborted babies?
    And how do you feel about Australian Foreign aid money being used to provide “safe” abortions in an effort to achieve MDG 5?

    • Good question, but easy to answer…
      Abortion is wrong, it’s not part of God’s plan and it amounts to the killing of innocent and vulnerable life. So I could never support the two things you mentioned.
      Call me ignorant, but I’m not aware of Australian aid money being used in this way. Can you direct me to links/sources of your info?
      Thanks!

      • Thank you Claire, you have no idea how blessed I am hear you say it is an easy question to answer! I have been so grieved by the amount of pro life people who have not found it so straight forward and have refused to stake any sort of stance on this issue. God Bless you heaps!

        I only just discovered that foreign aid was being sent to fund abortions a few weeks ago.

        I emailed Compassion Australia to ask them about their position on vaccines created from aborted foetal cell lines, and was shocked to receive a response from them where they claimed they did not have a “board – approved, official stance” on either vaccines or abortion but partnered with churches around the globe who had their own separate theological and denominational positions.

        I tried to find documentation to show them that they did in fact have a pro life stance as an organisation, but instead I found something else 😦

        Compassion Australia has been working to achieve the World Millennial Developmental Goals 4 and 5.

        Millenial Developmental goal 5 (MDG 5), is divided in to 2 parts: Part A – reduce maternal deaths by 3/4. And Part B – achieve global access to reproductive health. http://www.un.org/millenniumgoals/maternal.shtml

        I think initially the goal started out as just focussing on reducing maternal deaths, and abortion provision wasn’t part of it. But several quite strong “pro “safe” abortion advocates” like UNFPA and Ipas, put on the pressure, and claimed that MDG 5 would be impossible to reach without “safe” abortion access being provided
        http://www.ipas.org/~/media/Files/Ipas%20Publications/MDGFLY3E11.ashx
        http://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/Focus-on-5.pdf
        http://www.unmillenniumproject.org/documents/Crane_and_Hord-Smith-final.pdf

        The United Nations (who created the goals) came on board with idea and the “Global Strategy for Women and Children’s Health” was created in 2010: http://www.who.int/pmnch/topics/maternal/20100914_gswch_en.pdf?ua=1
        on page 7 you will find the following quote:

        “Partners must ensure that women and children have access to a universal
        package of guaranteed benefits, including family-planning information and services, antenatal, newborn and postnatal care, emergency obstetric and newborn care, skilled care during childbirth at appropriate facilities, safe abortion services (when abortion is not prohibited by law), ”

        Compassion Australia created a Micah Challenge document in 2011 encouraging our government to financially support this strategy in an effort to achieve MDG’s 4 and 5. And also encouraged them to take initiative in their alliance with the Gates Foundation:

        “Medium-term proposals (to be achieved by 2015/16 federal foreign aid budget)

        Ensure Australia takes a global leadership role in financially supporting and promoting child and maternal health programs by:
        Increasing the Australian Government’s financial commitment for the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health to $2.5 billion over the next five years

        “Taking a leadership role within the new International
        Alliance with the US, UK and Gates Foundation
        supporting maternal and newborn health.”

        http://www.micahchallenge.org.au/assets/pdf/it_shouldnt_end_at_the_beginning_-_Policy_Report_-_Child_and_Maternal_Health_spending_in_Australias_foreign_aid_program.pdf

        Both the Gates Foundation and Australian Aid are partnered with Mariestopes International (http://mariestopes.org/about-us/partners) which has the following vision and mission:

        “Our vision: a world in which every birth is wanted.
        Our mission: children by choice, not chance.

        Around the world, women trust Marie Stopes International to provide them with a full range of quality sexual and reproductive health services. Our expert teams offer a full range of methods of contraception, and provide women with access to safe abortion services (where legal) and post-abortion care.”
        http://mariestopes.org/about-us

      • Phew! You’ve done some serious homework! I wasn’t aware of this – I’ll look into it. Thanks for the heads-up, appreciate your time. God bless you back 😉

  4. Pingback: Here is an Orphanage Giving to the Needy of Nepal | Claire van Ryn

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