At the risk of being misinterpreted I want to reflect for a few moments on the current election environment in Australia as we approach voting on May 18th. The election campaign seeks to lock you and me into a position of being on one side or the other! We are being polarised and encouraged to hold fixed opinions about the ‘other side’ and the risk of trusting them as compared to the other!
Two weeks ago, unnoticed by many of us and with little media attention, the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade of the Australian Parliament released a report recommending that the federal government, within a year, commit to a set timeframe of no more than five years for increasing Australia’s aid funding to at least 0.5 per cent of gross national income (GNI) and 0.7 per cent within 10 years. It is currently 0.21% of GNI.
It is a remarkable and bipartisan report – parliamentarians from both sides together calling for deep change in Australia’s foreign aid program, including a change of name to ‘Development Partnerships’. There was no dissent. People from across the spectrum of Australian politics presented a new vision and understanding of our collective response to the poor.
I was speechless and even excited as I read the report. I was then left in limbo as the election arguments boil down to a very different personal cry – ‘What about me’? Here lies the greatest challenge for us all. How do we place the reality of the needs of others before what we want or believe we deserve? Vote winning policies hinge on how we are personally impacted. How can such policies instead hinge on the question of benefiting the poor and Australia’s Indigenous peoples?
In Galatians, Paul, is confronted by the Council in Jerusalem about the content of his preaching. Those in Jerusalem affirm that what he is proclaiming is orthodox and needs nothing added to it. They ask one thing of him – that he remember the poor! His response – ‘I am eager to do that’ (Galatians 2:10).
Some ask – which poor did the Council mean? Those in Jerusalem or all the poor? We will never know the answer and debating this misses the point and leads to a lack of sensitivity to the poor. Paul’s answer shows that his enthusiasm is directed towards others and not towards himself.
Australia, God asks one thing of us… that we remember the poor. Can we say with Paul ‘I am eager to do that’?