The Poverty Question

John Beckett asks if we will remember the poor when it is time to vote?

Everybody is looking for answers these days. We’re looking for people who want to ask a good question!

Questions are important! Unless we ask the right questions, we will never find the right answers.

All of the best moments of my life started with a great question; “Dad, can you teach me how to kick the footy?”; “Allie, will you marry me?”

And many of the great movements that changed the world started with great questions. For example, a question about the injustice of one person enslaving another caused a guy like William Wilberforce to interrupt his comfortable and privileged existence to fight for the abolition of slavery.

I have been saddened and frustrated by this election campaign so far. Whatever you think of Kevin Rudd, three years ago we watched him ride a wave of popularity because Australians were ready for a campaign that stood for something positive, that inspired them to hope for change. We have watched Rudd’s demise, and now we find ourselves in a campaign focused on the art of the underpromise! It seems like a competition to see who can most effectively commit to doing nothing. It seems like a campaign based on fear of the other, rather than hope for the future.

I appreciated John Dickson’s recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald, and his reminder to us that a Christian vote is necessarily a vote for others. Yet the nature of this campaign means that any notion of aspiring to be a nation of compassion and generosity has fallen off the agenda. In particular, the question of Australia’s responsibility to help the poorest people in our world seems to have been pushed to the margins.

Will you remember the world’s poorest people this election?” It’s a simple question. Are Christians in this country asking themselves that question before casting their vote? We think it’s a question worth asking because it’s a life and death question for millions of people in our world! People who call themselves followers of Jesus ought to understand that the call to work for justice for the world’s poor is a never changing part of their lives in this world. Never changing commitment in an ever-changing world.

We think this is one of the most important questions that anyone promoting themselves as the potential leader of a large and wealthy nation should be asked to answer. We have both the privilege and the responsibility in this nation to use our voices to influence public policy. If our leaders are not asking themselves the questions that are important then we need to ask those questions for them.

At present we have a commitment from both major parties in this country to reaching 0.5% of GNI (50 cents in every $100 we make as a nation) to overseas development by 2015/16. This is a welcome step forward from very low rates less than a decade ago. However, at present both parties have only made vague and conditional statements about reaching the internationally agreed target of 0.7% … “when or if economic and fiscal conditions permit”. Vague statements like this have no value for the world’s poorest people.

If Australia moves from 0.5% to 0.7%, we conservatively estimate that will directly prevent the deaths of 220,000 people each year. It will also provide clean water and sanitation to more than half a million and put an additional 4 million children through basic education. That is a vision worth chasing. Before Australians head to the polls on 21 August, we at Micah Challenge are calling on the major parties to:

1) Present a timetable for how they plan to increase the nation’s aid budget to 0.7% GNI

2) Commit to appointing a Minister for International Development to help ensure Australia’s aid money is effective in alleviating poverty.

What kind of world do you want to see? Questions are important! Unless we ask the right questions, we will never find the right answers.

For information about The Poverty Question campaign and how people can get involved visit:

John Beckett is the National Coordinator of Micah Challenge International

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