It was long thought impossible that a cure for smallpox, one of the deadliest diseases in human history, could be found. For a while it was deemed impossible for man to be able to fly like a bird, let alone walk on the moon. And for longer than a century it was thought impossible that an African-American could be president of the United States.
Throughout history seemingly impossible feats have become possible all because a public and political will was strong enough to enact change.
Today, the eradication of extreme poverty is still thought to be impossible, possibly because rich countries like ours consider support for poor nations a discretionary luxury.
Australia's political will to end poverty took a backwards step this month when the Gillard Government stalled on its own commitment to increase overseas aid to 0.5 per cent of gross national income (GNI) when it released the 2012-13 Federal Budget, effectively breaking Labor's pre-election promise to increase aid to 0.5 per cent of GNI by 2015-16
Australia's current overseas aid spending sits at just 0.35 per cent of GNI, which is approximately just $5 billion out of $842 billion of the country's income.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard's decision to delay the 0.5 per cent target, which will save the Government just $3 billion over four years, has the potential to cost the lives of a quarter of a million people, especially of those affected by the recent drought in the Horn of Africa and the two-thirds of the world's poor who live on Australia's doorstep in the Asia-Pacific region.
Alarmingly, in its budget, the Government has found approximately one-sixth of its reduction in spending over the next four years from the overseas aid program, even though aid accounts for less than 2 per cent of total government spending. The Government cannot argue that aid is simply taking its fair share of overall spending cuts.
Our aid program works. Last year Australia began to raise its global profile to become a major player in improving the lifesaving work of the Global Alliance for Vaccines & Immunisation (GAVI) Alliance. Our donation of $200 million over three years will enable 7 million children to be vaccinated against life-threatening diseases but because of the scaling back of aid increases only 10 per cent of these funds will be delivered in the first funding year.
Australia will now place in jeopardy those communities that would otherwise have no access to lifesaving services such as immunisation control or tuberculosis clinics without our support. The Government is answerable to these communities and cannot deny that cutting back on aid spending will have immediate and direct impacts on the wellbeing of these communities.
The Government achieved its superfluous surplus last week but away from the numbers it is a deficit of morality. Thousands of people will have to wait for lifesaving healthcare, clean drinking water and microfinance loans that we have provided them for years just so that our budget can be back in the black.
In 2000, with 180 other world leaders, John Howard was the first of our Prime Ministers to garner the public and political will to help halve extreme poverty by 2015. A future Coalition Government should do everything in its willpower to make sure that Australia follows through on this commitment and act on it sooner rather than later.
Winning the war on poverty is still possible.
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Maree Nutt is the National Manager of RESULTS International (Australia), a non-partisan, non-profit, international network of volunteers whose purpose is to generate the public and political will to end poverty. She has worked closely with politicians on both sides of government and advises aid agencies like AusAID on proven and effective methods of poverty alleviation.