At home the government is funding The National Disability Insurance Scheme, needs based education funding (Gonski) and provided ongoing funding to homelessness services. They have also made it harder for multinationals to dodge their taxes in Australia. All great initiatives.
However, it’s the way the government is choosing to relate to those beyond our borders that has me feeling uneasy. The government has again chosen to cut the Australian Aid program. Our national generosity is already at its lowest level on record, but now we are set to retreat further. $303 million dollars of planned spending will be cut from an already depleted aid program.
The cut comes amidst a level of humanitarian need unseen since the second world war. In Iraq and Syria millions of people have been uprooted from their lives and are attempting to escape conflict and strife. While in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, and Nigeria, political turmoil, conflict, and drought have combined to generate a hunger crisis which is jeopardising the welfare and survival of more than 20 million of our fellow human beings.
I find the cuts painful to watch. I know that aid saves lives, empowers families, and gives children hope. There is so much need, yet rather than do more, as a nation we are choosing to do less.
This year we will spend five times more holding refugees in offshore detention than we will give in emergency humanitarian assistance for those suffering from disaster and conflict. And while we have cut aid by $303 million, we are further accelerating our spending on defence by half a billion; by 2020 the defence budget will be more than ten times the aid budget.
A pillar of the government’s messaging around this budget has been security. Extra money for defence, for police, for spies and ongoing funding for border protection – all shore up a message that the government is keeping us safe from the threats beyond our borders.
I don’t know how much extra funding is needed for national security, so I am happy to accept that the increase may be completely reasonable, but what’s niggling at me is that increasingly when we talk about our global neighbours, it is as a threat that we need to be protected from. It’s a narrative that plays on our fears. And it moves our nation closer to being one that retreats into protecting itself, rather than reaching out to others in need.
I know there is a lot of fear in Australia now. I hear it around the dinner table with my family and when I’m catching up with friends – fear of terrorism; fear of our borders being overrun; fear of the other. And, honestly, it’s hard not to be taken in by it myself. The news is constantly filled with horrible events, that are taking place all around the world. What’s to stop it spilling onto our shores? It did in Martin place.
But if giving into my fear means that I celebrate the government strengthening our national security, and I overlook the fact that they are cutting aid to those in need… then I’ve missed something.
The Bible says “perfect love drives out all fear”. Jesus calls me to love my enemies, and pray for those that persecute me. He reminds me that I’m to follow the example of the Good Samaritan that cares for those his culture would tell him to ignore. He calls me to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and shelter the homeless, and to pursue His kingdom, even when it means taking up my cross.
So, today, I am choosing to be reminded of the call that Jesus places on my life. And that’s the challenge I’m sitting with.
In a culture, and amidst politics, that would have me become fearful and turn inwards, I want to be someone that chooses to turn outwards. I want to turn outwards towards millions of real people who are in desperate need. I want to be someone that loves my neighbours, wherever they are in the world. And I hope that the church, Jesus’ people, are wanting to do the same.
Baptist World Aid will be putting out resources to help you and your church to do just that. Keeping checking our Facebook Page for updates on how you can take action.