The moral point of difference between Labor and the Coalition


There was cause for celebration on Saturday night for both the Coalition and Labor. The Coalition was able to claim a decisive victory in the Federal Election, and Labor defied expectations and remains viable. But not so for vulnerable people overseas who will lose their Australian foreign aid lifeline so that the Coalition can fund its election promises.

Last Thursday, then opposition leader Tony Abbott announced the Coalition's proposal to cut $4.5 billion from Australia’s foreign aid program over the next four years. The proposed deep cuts to foreign aid will be used to pay for improvements to the nation’s infrastructure. 

In other words, people will die so that we can have better roads. This is consistent with the tough asylum seeker policies of both the Coalition and Labor which lead to people drowning at sea so that we may have more secure borders. It is even more scandalous if we consider that, for some time, funds have been diverted from the foreign aid budget to help cover the cost of running detention centres and prosecuting other aspects of government policy on asylum seekers. This has diminished the dignity of people, not helped to promote it, which is a major goal of foreign aid.

Caritas acting CEO Helen Forde suggested in a statement on Sunday morning that the amount of $4.5 billion in foreign aid could save up to 450,000 lives.

'As a nation we are more than capable of continuing our commitment to the world’s poor and we call on Tony Abbott as the next Prime Minister to reverse the proposal to cut $4.5 billion over the next four years. We are saddened by the increasing habit of our political leaders in diverting and proposing cuts to our foreign aid budget to pay for their domestic policy costs such as processing asylum seekers and building better infrastructure like roads.'

The $4.5 billion cut in foreign aid comes after both the Coalition and Labor backed away from a promise made during the last election campaign that by 2015, 50 cents in every $100 of GNI (Gross National Income) would be spent on foreign aid.

Duncan MacLaren is a former Caritas international secretary general who now teaches international development studies at the Australian Catholic University. He pointed out in an article for Eureka Street that well targeted foreign aid can represent very good value for money 'if owned by the people it was meant for, if there are adequate training components, if it doesn't encourage dependency, if it is channelled through local community-based organisations and if, in a world where violence simmers under the surface of many societies, it fosters peace'.

But increasingly it has been tied to purchasing Australia's goods and services, which is actually trade rather than development aid.

We can only hope that, if not reversed, the $4.5 cut over the next four years will represent a point of difference between the major political parties that has been lacking in asylum seeker policy. Labor might tap the Australian people's openness to facing moral challenges that were part of Rudd's successful pitch in the 2007 election campaign.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.

Image: Caritas Australia



Topic tags: Michael Mullins, coalition, Abbott, Rudd, Labor, ALP, foreign aid, caritas, aid and development



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Existing comments

WE have been using ODA to build and run prisons for refugees in Indonesia for the past 12 years and the media ignore that as they carp about a few thousand refugees. It is disgusting that rich, selfish Australians can pretend to be hard up to punish people subsisting on $2 per day or less.
Marilyn | 09 September 2013

How ironic that this year's Social Justice Statement from the bishops is named "Lazarus at our gate: A critical moment in the fight against world poverty". Let's pray that this statement, distributed, discussed and prayed over by catholics around the nation will influence the government in its attitudes to "us" and "them".
Janet | 09 September 2013

Yea verily, Fr Mullins. The impact on real and vulnerable human beings will be monstrous. Hopefully our frozen moral compass will thaw over the next 3 years and that we will demand a return to compassion and "enlightened" self-interest that will restore foreign aid and our integrity.
Patricia R | 09 September 2013

Nothing is more generally exploded than the folly of talking too much. As Tony Abbott disclosed in his victory? speech: "It is the people of Australia who determine the government and the Prime Ministership of this country and you will punish anyone who takes you for granted".
Annoying Orange | 09 September 2013

I couln't agree more, Michael Mullins! There seems to be a significant gulf in our contemporary political thinking between what is popularly,financially and legally permissible and what is morally responsible. Our parliament is over-run by lawers and financiers. Our once altruistic vision as a nation has been clouded over by image makers and bean counters, aided buy a predatory and sensation-seeking press.
Jim Slingsby | 09 September 2013

It is open to Catholics to hold in good conscience that government-to-government foreign aid has been an utter disaster for the poorest people in the world. There is a vast literature on this subject. Foreign aid has spawned corruption and enabled dictatorships to maintain a vice-like hold on their subjects. Rarely if ever does it trickle down to its imagined target, the actual poor, and by then it has caused so much damage on the way that the poor are much worse off. To begin to think of the disaster, we might consider analogously the untold millions spent over the decades - with noble intentions - on aborigines in the remote communities of Australia, and then take a look at the squalor and desperation which is the daily reality there,contrasted with the comfortable lifestyle of the bureaucrats benefiting from implementing this "assistance" in their air conditions offices in Canberra or Darwin. Unfortunately, the Coalition is only fiddling at the edges with its slight foreign aid reduction. Worse, it has announced that it will spend the saved money on "infrastructure" within Australia. The cruel irony is that it is "infrastructure" projects in target countries that tangibly exhibit the worst characteristics of foreign aid: roads to nowhere, half built bridges etc. Please, Mr Hockey, don't turn Australia into a third world basket case. Just give us back the wealth we've created. Many of us would like to spend a lot of it ourselves on the world's poor, through the far more efficient private aid organizations that exist.
HH | 09 September 2013

Perhaps, Father, the far greater point of moral difference resides in the public corruption and amorality openly displayed by a surprising number of labor parliamentarians scrutinised in corruption commissions and kicked out of parliament with penalties for their deeds.
john frawley | 09 September 2013

You made the excellent point, citing Duncan MacLaren, that our foreign aid should be just that, not trade and that it needs to be targeted to those who need it through genuine grass roots organisations, Michael. We need to break the nexus between our foreign aid and what has become a massive, counter-productive Aid Industry, whose projects and personnel are wildly over expensive and of dubious benefit to supposed recipients. Only when we do this will there be a genuine case to increase our overseas aid. At present its benefits are, on occasions, thoroughly dubious.
Edward F | 09 September 2013

HH is correct to say that much foreign aid has been an utter disaster for the poorest people of the world. Even in the USA, the trillions spent since the 1960s Great Society experiment to eliminate poverty has only succeeded in enriching a “caring” bureaucracy and bankrupting the state. The black economist Thomas Sowell wrote “the black family, which had survived centuries of slavery and discrimination, began rapidly disintegrating in the liberal welfare state that subsidized unwed pregnancy and changed welfare from an emergency rescue to a way of life.” Aristotle wrote that “the liberal man will give to the right people, the right amounts, and at the right time.” This depends on the virtue of prudence. Accordingly, someone who gives the wrong amounts to the wrong people is, by definition, not acting prudently, and is thus not acting virtuously. They are simply engaging in self-righteous moralising.
Ross Howard | 09 September 2013

Thank you Michael for another excellent article. What Pope Francis calls the globalization of indifference is speeding up at an alarming rate. Would it be of any use to have a conference on the theme of GOI? Not so much a moral outrage exercise, as a time for sharing on what can be done to reverse the trend. Maybe the forces for compassion need to be more united. Are there enough compassionate people left to elect a senator in each state? The senate is shaping up as the only way to combat the compassion malaise of the major parties.
John Wotherspoon | 09 September 2013

So, Ross Howard and HH, that is Australia's excuse to do nothing?
JR | 09 September 2013

It is well time that the Catholic Bishops, if they want their message about the sanctity of life to have credibility, made the same point. Given the numbers of Catholics in the incoming Cabinet, it is time the Church's message became far more personal. Church tradition, and every possible interpretation of the Gospel, demands that it be named as such. When power is abused in this way, and lives are being lost, the Church must be prepared to name not only the sin but the sinner. The man who would be able to do this most effectively, because everyone would be listening, is clearly Cardinal Pell. If he is prepared to sacrifice his close relationship with the new PM to state the truth expressed in this article, it wont only be the worlds poor who will benefit but the increasingly discredited institution that ordinary Australians believe the Cardinal represents.
James Boyce | 10 September 2013

JR, when what you're currently doing is positively harmful as I've pointed out above, then the government's "doing nothing" - ending the taxpayer-funded gravy train - is a big step in the right direction. For a start, it immediately pulls the rug from under all the rent seekers and corrupt leaders and bureaucrats that have been feeding off the aid pipeline for so many decades. Private individuals and organizations have long been far more adept at seeing their charitable donations achieve their targets effectively. But even more effective than privately targeted aid (good as it is) is: spreading free market capitalism. As I've noted several times on this site, the most recent halving of the world's poverty was the most rapid in human history. That Millennium Goal, achieved a couple of years back-with almost no recognition-was overwhelmingly due to poorer countries coming into the world market economy. As even U2 rock star and philanthropist Bono now admits: "Aid is just a stop-gap. Commerce [and] entrepreneurial capitalism takes more people out of poverty than aid. In dealing with poverty here and around the world, welfare and foreign aid are a Band-Aid. Free enterprise is a cure. Entrepreneurship is the most sure way of development." When will the left, which claims to be concerned for the poor, wake up?
HH | 10 September 2013

Why can't the politicisions see it? Can't you get to them somehow? We've tried and failed. We are left to cry and I mean really "to cry". With leadership we could be shamed into paying more tax; we built the Opera House for heaven's sake, on lottery ticket sales. Every viable community (remember it's Greek origin) could surely support for a while one family looking for asylum in our land. And as for cutting our, your's and mine, aid budget, Oh Michael do something.
Mahdi | 10 September 2013

It is shameful that this rich First World country is cutting foreign aid to Third World and Developing countries....but of the course, the priority must be fully paid maternity leave for our middle class women. Not!!! But what else would one expect from an Abbott led government! Heaven help us.
Louw | 13 September 2013

So, if I understand your logic correctly HH, you would also be happy for the govt. to donate the $4.5 billion to the Gates Foundation and save more than 900,000 lives ($28b saves 5.1m). Given the current situation, I would be content with that.
Paul Fyfe | 14 September 2013

Paul Fyfe, sorry - I've forgotten to review here. Thanks. I think my main point is that however much money our government realistically donate pales into insignificance before the effect, when implemented, of the principle of states simply allowing their own citizens to produce wealth themselves, as those citizens seem to do most adequately if their right to life, private property and freedom to do business is respected. This has been proven in recent history time and again by examples, both positive and negative. (Hong Kong/Communist China, Communist China/post-Communist China, West/East Germany, North/South Korea, Dominican Republic/Haiti, etc). As to your suggestion of the government giving bucketloads of money to private foundations, I'm personally skeptical because of the moral hazards I'm sure anyone can see might come into play after the first round. But apart from that issue, the Gates foundation, with its promotion of abortion would seem to me to be especially to be avoided, on account of its hostility to the basic right of human life.
HH | 03 October 2013


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