What guns are to America, pokies are to us

Tim Costello on what Aussies should be protesting.

As a wave of anti-gun violence protests energise American young people, Tim Costello has the answer to the question “What should Aussies be protesting?” Pokies and aid.

With the Tasmanian and SA elections giving a belting to parties with a anti-pokie policy (Labor in Tasmania and Nick Xenophon in SA) is this still worth the fight?

“We saw a win in one sense. For the first time every secular journalist suddenly had an ‘aha’ moment. Massive amounts of pokies money, actually buying an election (in Tasmania),” Costello told Eternity. 

“Spending ten to one against the parties that said we’ll get rid of the pokies. They were outspent.

“So it means in NSW with its election next year, Victoria this year, every journalist is going to be saying ‘we get it’. Pokies in Australia – where we have 20 per cent of the world’s pokies –  are our blindspot. Like guns are in America. The NRA in America has been capturing politicians, we all know that. Pokies money has been capturing politicians here.”

But Costello, is an optimist, not a doomsayer.

“Over my time at World Vision (an agency that ‘works with children, families, and communities to overcome poverty and injustice’) we have made extraordinary progress in rolling back absolute poverty, people living on less than $1.90 a day. When I started at World Vision 15 years ago, some 30,000 kids under the age of five were dying every day from dirty water, hunger  and preventable disease. Today it is less than 16,000 kids. Far too many still.”

“People say, ‘the poor you have with you always’. I say to Christians ,when Jesus said that he said you will have the poor with you always – and they will be in your heart.

“When people say ‘you can’t make a difference’. Wrong. We have made a real difference.”

But against the hopeful story is conflict.

“From Syria to Yemen, from South Sudan where I have just come back from – 2.5 million Christian South Sudanese have fled ethnic violence. Conflict stops the progress of eradicating poverty.”

“But the big picture since I started at World Vision is really good news.”

But Australia does not deserve to get a “leave pass” in Costello’s view.

Costello is also the head of Micah Australia, a coalition of Christian social justice groups. Eternity challenged Costello that if the continual drop in overseas aid spending by the Australian government is a guide, he has taken on a losing cause.

“Micah is a coalition of Christians who say ‘when we are generous, we are really serving God’. Many Christians are privately generous but the Australian nation which made a promise to the world’s poor of giving 70 cents in a $100 of Gross National Income (GNI), is now down to 22 cents. By comparison, the British have legislated seventy cents, so have the Dutch and the Scandinavians. Literally, this cutting of aid costs thousands of lives. It keeps women who might otherwise see their children go to school or get clean water without that hope.

“Micah says we can be better than that.”

Costello believes that Christians are truly internationalists.

“We believe every person carries the image of God. Just as sin cripples when you don’t know there is a God who loves you, who sent Jesus to die for you, sin is also not having clean water, not having a school to go to, not having enough calories to survive the day.

“To be internationalist means we say when people are denied life-giving aid from Australia, that cripples the image of God.”

“When Australia is turning inwards and saying ‘not our responsibility’, Christians have a responsibility to say ‘not in my name, these are children of God.'”

Costello believes that two tribes of Christians – those who prioritise justice or “word” ministry – can work together.

“What I say to Christians is, ‘Let’s do what Jesus did’. He certainly proclaimed the good news but he also healed and fed. Jesus never split word from deed. He said the reign of God is both about good news proclaimed, and generosity and commitment to the poor.”