For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matthew 6:21).
Jesus’ perspective on how we spend our money is perhaps the best indication of what is going on in our hearts. So, what does the Australian Government’s budget tell us about the heart of our nation?
The recently announced 2020-21 Development Budget includes an additional $304.7m to be spent in the Pacific and Timor-Leste to help ward off the worst social and economic costs of COVID-19. The development community has welcomed this initiative. It is additional funding and targeted to help our close neighbours in the Pacific with whom we have a unique relationship, and where we as a nation can have a significant impact. And it reflects the value of looking beyond ourselves during difficult times.
For reasons yet to be explained, the additional $304.7m was not included in the government’s Official Development Assistance (ODA). ODA is the amount that is recognised and recorded by international bodies as our contribution to releasing people from poverty. Our ODA was $4.044B in 2019-20 and it will be $4B in 2020-21. This shows a decline to 0.60% of government spending, but remains at 0.21% of Gross National Income (GNI) – as our GNI has gone down because of COVID-19.
Technically, it halts the steady decline in the ODA/GNI ratio since 1970 and, arguably, this is admirable given these difficult times. In the bigger picture, however, Australia remains well below the OECD average of 0.3% (2019) and the UN target of 0.7%.
There has also been a rearrangement of where our ODA is targeted, which has seen a shift to the Pacific and to South East Asia, on the basis that these are our neighbours who we have a strategic opportunity to assist and whose prosperity most affects our own. The downside is that desperately poor countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan will receive much less support.
This shift in funding reflects one of the dilemmas that countries and agencies face when they plan to engage strategically in development. Do we focus on the places which are the poorest? Or do we focus on places which are poor, but where we have easy access and neighbourly affinity?
A “yes” to the first question would send more resources to Africa (19 of the bottom 20 nations on the Human Development Index (HDI) (2019) are in Africa) and to the West Asian countries listed above. A “yes” to the second question sends resources to the Pacific and South-East Asia.
Our strategy at GMP has been to follow the relationships that God puts in our path. This has led us to having a foot in each of these camps. South Sudan, for example, is in that bottom 20 nations on the HDI. Vanuatu, on the other hand, is a familiar Pacific neighbour that many Australians may have visited for a holiday.
Perhaps, in God’s eyes, for governments and for agencies, the position of our hearts is reflected more in the size of our commitment than its location.
Colin Scott, COCOA Director
More details of the budget and its impact on development.