Opinion

Our world needs Australian generosity more than ever

Tearfund and its partners are calling on the government to invest in Australia's international aid program at a crucial time.

Empowering people through education is crucial to breaking the cycle of poverty.

PHOTO: Tearfund

By Matthew Maury

October 5 2020Ahead of the release of the Morrison Government’s 2020 budget on Tuesday, Tearfund’s Matthew Maury appeals for Australia to offer the generosity it’s shown before to the world’s most poor and marginalised people, at a time when global poverty is set to increase for the first time in 30 years.

Over the past months COVID-19 restrictions have prevented Australians from travelling overseas and reshaped the way most of us work. For international development organisations, the global lockdown has meant our sector has relied on technology in new ways to help us connect globally.

Through these past few months I have had several video conversations with Tearfund’s local Christian partner agencies based in Africa, Asia and the Pacific, listening to them tell of the unfolding impact of the coronavirus on their work and the communities they stand alongside. Having lived and worked in Africa for 15 years prior to my position as Tearfund Australia’s CEO, I’ve witnessed how overwhelmed health systems can be; how vulnerable livelihoods can be; how crises can set an entire region several steps back on the road to overcoming poverty. Without social safety nets like we enjoy in Australia, the depth of the economic and health devastation in these communities is hard for us to imagine.

In the midst of the very real personal struggles we have faced in our own Australian context, I worry that we have become numb to the big picture economic impacts of COVID-19 – and in particular what that means for the most marginalised. Perhaps the most significant emerging “headline” for the world – and certainly for Tearfund’s work – is that global poverty will increase for the first time in 30 years. This is not a theoretical issue for economists to debate or simply another piece of random trivia: it represents a modern-day tragedy. 

Historically, when the world has faced humanitarian disasters, Australians have responded with a generosity that represents some of our deeply held values. I have seen it time and time again. It is in our national character to do our part to help people in need. Whether it be tsunamis, fires, conflict or floods, we want to do our part to alleviate suffering and pain.

The question facing us next week is: will our national budget continue to reflect these values? In the midst of the impact of COVID on the very vulnerable will our government respond? Next week's federal budget will once more shine a bright light on what our leaders believe we as a nation value most for ourselves and the world. Will we respond as global citizens with a commitment to increased generosity, or will we follow the troubling trend of reducing our commitments to the poor?

To this point, our government’s international response to COVID-19 has been a zero sum game. Major ministerial announcements – such as the recent news that Australia would spend $80 million on a global effort to distribute a successful COVID-19 vaccine to low income countries – are just announcements about reallocating the already historically low DFAT budget for international aid.

While we certainly welcome the government’s commitment to safe and affordable vaccines, this commitment isn’t about increased generosity… In fact, this is just robbing Peter to pay Paul. Whilst Australia’s contribution of $80 million is, on the one hand, good news for some, the fact that it is reallocating existing funds from an already depleted Australian aid budget means it comes at the expense of other life changing development work.

We can do better. Our world needs Australian generosity at this time. As we approach the upcoming federal budget, Tearfund Australia, together with our “End COVID For All” partners and tens of thousands of Australians, have been raising a clear and strong voice for Australia not to turn our back on our neighbours and the world’s most vulnerable at this time of great need. We are calling on the government to invest further in our international aid program at this crucial time. COVID-19 has taught us so many lessons, but perhaps the most important at this time is how connected all humanity is: that COVID-19 isn’t over until it is over for everyone.

As our foreign policy continues to struggle to find our place as a nation in the global political landscape – sandwiched between political interests of China and America – we have a unique opportunity this year with our federal budget to bring a better and different narrative to our regional neighbours: a narrative of compassion and hope. Surely this is something we can all support.

Matthew Maury is CEO of Tearfund, previously TEAR Australia. This Christian agency has renamed itself Tearfund to reflect its close ties with the 10 other member countries in the Tearfund family.