Guest Post: Julia Gillard, the Millennium DevelopmentGoals, and the Aid Budget

by Max Collison.

When a federal budget is being prepared it’s a fair guess that different interest groups are going to be advocating for more money. It’s also a fair guess that every advocate is going to be wishing they knew someone who had real influence in the budget process.

“If only I could have the ear of Treasurer Wayne Swan for ten minutes, I’m sure he would understand why <insert cause> needs more budget allocation.”

Even better, what if the Prime Minister really ‘got it’ in regards to the issue being raised!!

And this is what I don’t understand—and why I’m writing. I’m writing, because Ms Gillard said she would advocate for the very poorest of the world (which happens to be the cause I’m focused on here). She may be doing it. But if I wait for budget night and it turns out she forgot to advocate…then a lot of people won’t go to school, unnecessarily, and a lot of people will die, unnecessarily.

After the last budget was handed down, where the Gillard government kept Australia’s giving to Foreign Aid at 0.35% of our Gross National Income (instead of moving towards the promised 0.5% of Australia’s GNI to Official Development Assistance by 2015-2016—not mentioning the 0.7% agreed upon by UN members way back in 1970!), Ms Gillard got a new job at the U.N.

Since June 2012, our Prime Minister has been the co-chair of the UN’s “Millennium Development Goal (MDG) Advocacy Group”.

To show what Ms Gillard has committed herself to advocate for, let me quote from the UN website:

Under the Chairmanship of H.E. Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia, and H. E. Mr. Paul Kagame, President of the Republic of Rwanda, the Advocates individually, collectively and in small groups engage with Members States, civil society, academia, parliaments, and the private sector to develop new and ground-breaking ideas and ways to accelerate MDG implementation. (Emphasis mine.)

So, this is the PM’s first budget since taking on the job. And she seems keen. In her speech to the UN General Assembly in September 2012, she chose to touch on the MDGs, saying:

Where the world has fallen short of ambitious goals, our response must be action, not disillusion. This is what Australia will do. We will act.

And then she went on to quote some examples of what Australia has done in the past.

But what I’m looking for is what Australia will do.

How will our PM engage with her parliament to accelerate MDG implementation, if not in the budget? We can’t do more—we can’t ‘accelerate’—without more money. And we’ve been promising more money since the 1970 UN General Assembly.

Ms Gillard can advocate in one of two ways. She can be like an English General at Gallipoli, encouraging the others to go ahead (while he stays back). Or she can be like the current British PM, and lead from the front.

In this past March’s budget, the UK—under a Conservative government—kept its promise to raise its Aid budget to 0.7% of GNI.

I think our PM would say that our economy is stronger than the UK’s.

I think our PM would recognise that the Australian Labor Party has its origins in opposing the
‘excesses, injustices and inequalities’ of our current economic system, whereas the Conservative Party in the UK does not.

So, I’m asking our PM: “Show me the money!”

Show us all how being co-chair of the UN’s MDG Advocacy Group means something.

Max Collison is a GP currently practicing in Sydney after a former life seeing how good aid works in Tanzania and Kenya. He is a co-convener of the Hills Justice Project.

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Voices for Justice 2012

Every year, hundreds of Australian Christians who are concerned with issues of poverty and justice head to Canberra to meet with our elected political representatives as part of the Micah Challenge’s Voices for Justice conference. We meet with them to discuss the Millennium Development Goals, and to remind them of the commitment our nation made to these goals by 2015.

With just 3 days to go until Voices for Justice 2012(!), I wanted to reflect for a moment on what it is that we are actually doing when we descend on Canberra every year, from my perspective, and why we do (and should do) it.

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed it too but, inevitably, whenever the discussion about Christians and politics arises, the temptation for ‘sides’ to form that fall along the usual political divides is never far behind. Will we as Christians support the ‘conservative’ agenda, or will we bind ourselves to the ‘progressives’?

It seems to me that this sort of thinking has the situation pretty much exactly the wrong way around.

As far as I can tell, the reduction of the glorious Good News to the level of party politics is just about the biggest mistake us Christians can make in our thinking, but it’s also one of the easiest mistakes we continue to make. I want to spend a few moments, therefore, outlining just a few points that are part of this overall discussion, so that we might begin to think through together exactly what it is that we are doing at Voices, and what it is not. Of course, the discussion here in the space available will be woefully inadequate as a comprehensive analysis of the situation, but I do hope that it may be a start for some and a contribution to others who might like to reflect more deeply on these things.

Firstly, then, I guess we should start by noting that the message of the Gospel most certainly is ‘political’. The idea that one could separate the ‘political’ from the ‘religious’ is, in the scheme of things, a very recent phenomenon indeed, and was practically unknown for most of human history before the last few hundred years. It was just a matter of course that ‘politics’ was, in some sense, ‘religious’, and that ‘religion’ was certainly ‘political’.

For the Apostle Paul, one of the central elements of his teaching was that “Jesus is Lord”—a statement that directly subverted the imperial propaganda! Early Christians (who proclaimed loyalty to an alternate king to whom every knee would eventually bow) would come to be seen as a seditious sect that jeopardised the very security of Rome under the favour of her gods, and therefore needed to be dealt with most harshly.

It is reasonably safe to conclude, then, that this Good News we proclaim is not just ‘theological’ (it is that, of course, but not just that). To believe that our understanding of the work of God in Jesus of Nazareth and continued by the Spirit is somehow divorced from ‘political’ ideas is a gross distortion of what God has accomplished in history, and this is very important because our understanding of this affects how we act.

And this brings me to the second point.

Our ‘religion’ is certainly a personal thing, but it is most certainly not merely private. This idea that has floated into Christian discussions about politics over the past half-century-or-so is like a noxious weed; it seems to be self-promulgating and chokes the life out of rest of the garden of our understanding.

Let me state it simply: if one can relegate one’s faith to only the ‘private’ sphere of their life, then it is not true faith at all. Our faith does, and should, effect every area of our lives—if it is genuine. A faith that does not influence my decisions and actions, flavouring my life at every point, is not genuine faith, but is rather more like a winter jacket that sits in my wardrobe until I pull it out a few times a year when it is cold enough. “Private’ faith, then, is only ‘partial’ faith.

For example, as Christians we believe that all humans are made ‘in the image of God’. If I am to truly believe this, then I can’t simply apply it to my understanding of myself alone, but am forced to let the concept season my understanding of all other humans on the planet. If I am to truly take the idea seriously, then I must stand against anything I see that seeks to deny the full humanity[-in-the-image-of God] of anyone else. It simply must influence my actions, because it means that I mustn’t partake of actions myself that treat another as something less than fully human. This, then, is a very public faith.

However, and this is possibly the most important point (and brings us back to where we started): this political, public faith overwhelmingly transcends our usual political categories.

This Good News that we believe—that we seek to live out in every area of our lives—is something far more impressive than party politics…and thank God for that!

Sometimes it is so terribly frustrating to watch the political parties go at it hammer-and-tong, acting in ways that can cause us to shake our heads in disbelief. Sometimes the level of political discourse in this country quite honestly makes me want to weep.

But the [G]ood [N]ews is that our faith is not in party politics. Our faith does not rest with Labor or Liberal, Nationals or Greens. Our faith does not rest even with the ‘Christian’ political parties.[1] Our faith rests with God’s work in Jesus of Nazareth, and the work of the Spirit through the Church Universal in beginning to enact the coming kingdom in the now—a partial, but nevertheless powerful taste of what will come in full one day.

And with this in mind, then, we might consider more appropriately how we, as Christians, interact with the political process.

We approach our MPs at Voices because, as Christians who happen to find ourselves in Australia, we have a pretty decent political system that allows us this incredible direct access to our elected representatives. It is certainly not a perfect system, but as far as political systems go it happens to be much better than some alternatives around the world. So we go, and we ask, and as we do we remember that our ultimate hope does not rest with this process. As good as it is, our system is still affected by the machinations of factions and personal ambition.

Our ultimate hope does not even lie with our government finally coming through with 0.5% of GNI going to the Aid budget (or even 0.7%!).

Please don’t get me wrong: these things are great! The difference that such funding can make is simply mind-blowing, and therefore pushing for these goals to be realised is a fantastic thing to do. The opportunities that we have are way too good to waste!

But our hope does not lie with policy alone.

We can, and should(!), seek to lobby our government to increase Aid. We should stand united in the face of obscene rates of death so easily prevented. We should continue to pester our elected representatives to show them that these issues are so important.

But we do it because it is a prophetic way to demonstrate the coming kingdom, not because such policy could ever be enough on its own.

And so, if you’re heading to Canberra too, I encourage you to think on these things, and to pray on these things, as we prepare for Voices for Justice this year. We can accomplish such great things, but we must always remember exactly where our ultimate hope lies. As we join together at Voices, such a beautifully diverse range of people (young and old, women and men, from every sphere of society), we catch a glimpse of the potential of the kingdom. We stand together as a demonstration of what is to come, when we won’t have to sit in MPs’ offices (as lovely as these visits may be) in order to see every human being flourishing and realising their potential as someone created in the image of God.


[1] I should note here that I do admire those Christians who are able to enter into the cut-and-thrust of political life while nevertheless maintaining their ultimate hope that transcends their party’s policy platform. I am not at all disparaging such a vocation, but am rather simply pointing out that a given party’s stance can never embody the fullness of the Kingdom of God.