Media analysis of the Federal budget is always interesting. In order to engage the Australian public, there’s a regular format that seems to be employed: interview a few voters from across the political spectrum, outline with them how the budget will impact their financial situation and get their reactions. While I laud the media’s attempt to get Australians engaged and thinking about what happens in the political spheres (a seemingly challenging task!), the method of engagement has perhaps unwittingly taught us an unhealthy lesson. When media reporting on the budget encourages dividing our society into budgetary ‘winners and losers’ - pitting Barry the Plumber against Meredith the Single Mum and Andrew the Uni Student – we learn to analyse the budget along individualistic lines. We read the headline ‘what’s in the budget for you?’, and reach for our calculators to work out who we’ll give our vote to.
But the Christian faith invites us to assess budgets – federal, community, personal - using a different set of matrix, because the repeated indicator of how well the people of God were travelling in the biblical narrative was their treatment of the folks on the margins. The reason for this is because vulnerable people are the proverbial canaries in our (hopefully carbon-free) coal mines. Read the Levitical laws. Take a walk through the prophetic literature. Listen to Jesus’ manifesto in Luke 4, his response to imprisoned John’s question about whether the kingdom of God really had arrived. The common thread, the regularly applied indicator of whether the kingdom of God was increasing or decreasing on earth was the level of community compassion and generosity towards the vulnerable.
It makes sense really. If life is moving towards God’s restorative plan for the world, you’ll notice it first on the margins, because vulnerable folks are the first to feel fluctuations in community generosity, they’ll be the first to find the holes in our safety nets, the first to feel the shifting of coins in our variety of budgets.
If we apply a vulnerable person’s matrix to this week’s federal budget – instead of the individualistic matrix we’ve perhaps been taught by the media – I think we’ll have some concerns about where Australian society is headed. We’ve just cut another $115 million from the Foreign Aid budget, and swathes of the Foreign Aid budget continue to be diverted to line items that perhaps aren’t worthy of the title ‘aid’ – things like loans and border security.
Our foreign aid assistance continues to be the lowest it’s ever been as a percentage of GNI, and this year’s cuts drive it lower still – far lower than we committed to, and far lower than community perceptions and expectations. This is all the more alarming given that our government has predicted a budget surplus of $7.1 billion. Can we really celebrate a budget surplus that is created - in part - by reducing our generosity to the economically poor? The relative silence of the Christian community on this issue is both strange and concerning.
While Amos Australia doesn’t receive any Australian foreign aid funding or benefit directly from it, we firmly believe that generosity is an important part of our national responsibility in the global arena. We believe that foreign aid is highly effective at addressing economic poverty and establishing regional peace and stability, and we’re convinced that it’s good for our national soul. God designed us to care for one another, to use our gifts and resources to bless and support each other – locally and globally. When we follow God’s design for life, we will experience shalom in greater measure than we would do otherwise.
Our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, quoting Desmond Tutu in his maiden speech, said:
"... we expect Christians ... to be those who stand up for the truth, to stand up for justice, to stand on the side of the poor and the hungry, the homeless and the naked, and when that happens, then Christians will be trustworthy [and] believable witnesses."
He immediately went on to say:
"These are my principles. My vision for Australia is for a nation that is strong, prosperous and... above all, generous in spirit, to share our good fortune with others, both at home and overseas, out of compassion and a desire for justice" (Morrison 2008).
Whether you support Amos Australia or not, we encourage you to take our Prime Minister's advice to "...stand up for the truth, to stand up for justice, to stand on the side of the poor..." by getting in touch with your local MP and expressing your concern about these further cuts to the foreign aid budget. We have some resources to assist you in contacting your MP, but if you’re still unsure about how to do it, get in touch and we’ll work on it together.
- Clinton Bergsma, Executive Officer, Amos Australia