Compare Our blessings with the world

Clay O’Brien, 27/4/10

The latest figures released on international aid show again how Australia is lagging behind the rest of the developed world. Each time these types of figures are released, we comfort ourselves by saying: “Yes, but we give a lot to worthwhile causes as individuals.” But that does not show us in a better light either. Figures released recently by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development indicate the Australian government contribution to foreign aid was $US2.76 billion last year. Based on the percentage of our gross national income, our aid is equivalent to 0.29 per cent and ranks Australia 16th out of 23 countries.

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As individuals, we pride ourselves on digging into our pockets when catastrophes hit our neighbours. Unfortunately, the truth is that we are not that generous. Our private giving as a percentage of gross domestic product ranks Australia 13th in the world, according to Johns Hopkins University in the US, behind Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
However, Australia certainly can afford to give more. We are one of the richest countries and are high on international comparisons of total development. Australia was the only developed country not to fall into recession as a result of the global financial crisis. And the UN Human Development Index, which also takes into account benefits such as life expectancy, literacy and education across 182 countries; places us second.
As we contemplate another federal election, I wonder if there is room for a political perspective that focuses more on the effect of our policies on the rest of the world. We should be grateful for our natural resources and development, but let’s also think about how to share these blessings.
This international approach could be applied in other areas, such as immigration. Instead of focusing on the few thousand people who come to our shores by boat, let’s think of the 16 million refugees across the globe and try to make a home for more of them.
Then there is the environment. Much of our wealth was built on natural resources that we export and use for cheap energy. That also makes us one of the worst emitters of carbon per capita.
Australians are proud when we take the lead in sport, film, medicine or research.
Let’s show direction on these issues too. It is time for a political party to express these concerns, to ensure the government focuses on the world’s other 6.75 billion people and to ask what our policies mean for all countries, not just the 51st largest.