As Australians we like to think of ourselves as a generous and open people, committed to standing with our mates when the hard times strike. While there’s a certain Aussie vernacular to the way we may say it, at heart there’s something biblical about this idea: if we take it seriously it starts to move us toward the second part of the Great Commandment to love our neighbour.
But do we take loving our neighbours seriously?
In part, this question is about our generosity as individuals and families. Earlier this year Baptist World Aid commissioned McCrindle Research to look at Australian attitudes and behaviours on a range of topics related to global engagement. Encouragingly, when we asked about whether Australia has a responsibility to support our regional and global neighbours to overcome poverty and disasters, an overwhelming 87 per cent of Aussies agreed. We see evidence of this same kind of generosity in the way the church is responding to the devastation of COVID in recent appeals for Papua New Guinea and India.
But our seriousness in loving our neighbours is also reflected in the governments we elect and the ways we respond corporately. One of the key moments for observing our corporate response comes on the second Tuesday of May each year. Political tragics like me hold our collective breathes and wait for the moment just after 7.30pm when the Federal Treasurer rises to the dispatch box in parliament to share the details of the next years’ federal budget. As Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners, has written, “budgets are moral documents”.
The way we spend our money – not just individually but as a nation — is a powerful indicator of what we truly love and prioritise.
So what did we see last night when Josh Frydenberg announced the government’s 2022 budget?
First let’s talk about where we started before last night. In a recent analysis piece for the Development Policy Centre, Professor Stephen Howes wrote: “The world has over the last decade been increasing aid, while Australia has been cutting it. We definitely stand out.”
Over that period, successive cuts to our aid budget mean we are now giving 31 per cent less to our struggling neighbours than we were ten years ago. At 21st, we rank towards the bottom of the list of wealthy nations (the OECD) when it comes to our generosity, despite some measures ranking as the most prosperous nation on earth. It’s not a good start.
Sadly, budget night has not given us anything new to celebrate. In fact, as John Hickey, my CEO at Baptist World Aid, said, ‘This budget is anemic.’
So in the year ahead Australia’s aid budget will fall by $144 million when compared to the previous year. Most of the investments in core programs and country partnerships will remain unchanged. There is a much-welcomed small additional package of $16.7 million for India ($31.7 million over two years) that was announced a few weeks ago. But beyond that the only development of note is that the government will start to reduce the support measures it had put in place to help our neighbours respond to COVID.
Right now, the largest humanitarian crises of a generation are impacting across much of the world. Not only are we witnessing the direct impacts of COVID in countries like India, we are also now seeing the devastating secondary impacts as the UN estimates that 270 million people are facing acute hunger and famine. This budget’s response is simply not enough – we are failing both in our responsibility to the world’s most vulnerable people, and to reflect our own values of generosity. While the Australian Government’s initial response last year to assist our neighbours in the Pacific and South East Asia respond to COVID, including through vaccine access, was a good start, this is a crucial time to step up our support, not let it slowly reduce.
As an organisation that works toward a world where poverty has ended and all people enjoy the fullness of life God intends, Baptist World Aid constantly celebrates the generosity and compassion of ordinary Australians’ response to the world’s injustices. In fact, we’re joining with others to advocate for a stronger response to the COVID crisis through the End COVID for All movement. And because of God’s provision through his people in Australia, we’re able to offer immediate support to hospitals in India through our Christian partners on the ground there.
At the same time, we lament that our government’s response as a nation remains so far removed from what it would be if we were to genuinely prioritise loving our neighbours and playing a responsible role in the world. So we pray, we join with others to advocate, and we give as we ourselves are able.
But together we say that we need to do more.