Opinion  |  

Budget cuts to Aus Aid a kick in the teeth for Christians

“Six consecutive cuts to Australia’s international development is a failure of moral leadership.”

Australian Aid has been slashed for the sixth time in consecutive budgets by the Coalition Government.

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During last night’s budget unveiling, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg announced plans to cease $500 million of existing aid projects in South-East Asia (Bangladesh, Cambodia, Nepal, Indonesia and Pakistan) to fund an infrastructure facility for the Pacific.

The cut is a kick in the teeth for many Christian voters after years of sustained advocacy by leaders of churches and Christian organisation – as well as by lay people. They have worked across denominational lines to deliver a consistent message to all political parties: Australian Aid matters to Christians.

Christian leaders have expressed both disappointment and anger.

“For years now the Coalition has told us that aid would be restored ‘once we returned to surplus,’” said Tim Costello, Micah Australia Executive Director. “Well, surplus is here, yet the poor have been forgotten, and we’ve been left wondering: When will this government believe we have ‘enough’ to start being generous again?

“This is not surprising from a government who have lost sight of our nation’s role as a global neighbour and treated our aid program like an ATM.”

Michael Frost, Founding Director at The Tinsley Institute and lecturer at Morling [Baptist] College, posted his thoughts to Facebook: “You might remember I was part of a recent campaign to increase Australia’s foreign aid budget. Well, a fat lot of good that did. Last night our government slashed aid … the sixth year of cuts in a row. Shame on us all. #budget19.”

When asked how he felt about the Australian Aid cuts, Anglican pastor and Ridley College lecturer John Dickson – who has recently returned from a trip to Jordan and Lebanon seeing the effect of the Australian Aid programme – replied: “Ashamed. Ashamed not so much of the Liberal Party but of the segment of the Australian public the Liberal Party obviously thinks this Aid cut will appeal to, or at least won’t bother. Parties usually just reflect their [perception of their] constituents’ viewpoint. How the fourth richest nation on earth can justify cutting aid, while splashing around tax cuts for middle incomers, I do not know! That’s how I feel.”

Dickson is just one of several high profile Christian leaders who have become mobilised in recent years to speak up politically on Australian Aid.

In September last year, Micah took a diverse delegation of female Australian Christian leaders to Canberra, meeting with Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Minister Peter Dutton, Shadow Minister for Finance Jim Chalmers and others, to raise concerns about Australia’s aid budget.

In addition, in December more than 200 Christians converged on Parliament House as part of Micah’s ‘Voices for Justice’. They met with 94 MPs or their staff members from all different parties to specifically ask for an increase to the nation’s aid budget.

“Cutting services that support kids in poverty does not reflect the willingness of Australians to help people in need.” – Jody Lightfoot

Jody Lightfoot, director of Campaign for Australian Aid, pulled no punches in commenting on the budget cuts this year, saying “The Coalition has broken their own record for being the least generous government in Australia’s history,” he said.

“Six consecutive cuts to Australia’s international development is a failure of moral leadership. The Prime Minister had an opportunity to show global leadership, instead he has chosen to pander to populism and cut vital services to our poorest neighbours. Australian aid has saved the lives of 230,000 children through our health programs in the last two decades. Cutting services that support kids in poverty does not reflect the willingness of Australians to help people in need.”

For Christians, the imperative to “care for the widow and the poor” is a foundational scriptural teaching – and arguably more so than many of the issues generally considered to be “Christian values”.

And, with a Christian Prime Minister at the national helm guiding this year’s budget, along with an election just around the corner, many Christians are today wondering whether the Coalition Government has chosen not to represent Christians priorities. Alternatively, perhaps the Coalition Government is just not convinced this particular tenet of Christian faith will really count with Christian voters at the ballot box next month.

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