Labor’s leadership challenge was an action-packed drama, and the Cabinet shuffle no less spectacular, with the dramatic entrance on stage of Bob Carr as new Foreign Affairs Minister.
But political theatrics aside, Julia Gillard is still the Prime Minister. Tony Abbott is still the Leader of the Opposition.
And one billion people are still going to bed hungry every night; 350,000 women in developing countries are still dying each year from complications in pregnancy and childbirth; and 900 million people still do not have access to safe drinking water.
When Minister Carr sits down and gets to work there are some key priorities that will need to take centre stage.
Succeeding in the bid for an Australian seat at the UN Security Council, the most powerful body of the UN, will be one of the major challenges for the new minister. It is pleasing news that he will maintain Australia’s push for a Security Council seat.
Mr Carr must also take on the job of overseeing Australia’s growing aid program with both sleeves rolled up.
Seeing out our commitment to helping achieve the Millennium Development Goals -global goals to halve the number of people living in poverty must be a priority.
Despite global economic turmoil, progress is being made and millions have been lifted out of poverty. But the world must remain focused on achieving these goals as the 2015 deadline approaches.
Australia’s effort here rests largely upon the minister’s role as the effective guardian of the bipartisan agreement to increase Australia’s foreign aid to 0.5 per cent of gross national income.
The minister must pursue the reform of the aid program, started by John Howard’s White Paper in 2004 and continued with the recent independent review of Australia’s aid program.
At the last election both Abbott and Gillard pledged to work toward these goals through a much-needed increase to the aid budget.
OECD figures show Australia ranks just 15 out of the world’s 23 richest nations in terms of aid budgets. The aid budget will increase to 0.5 per cent of national income by 2015-16, placing us near the OECD average and the Gillard Government will look to keep up the momentum and move us to 0.7 per cent, the internationally agreed target.
As the global financial situation worsens, each dollar of Australian aid increases in importance. Even though Australia’s aid contribution is still only equal to around $3.30 per person per week it makes a huge difference to the world’s poorest people, with 1.4 billion people still living on less than $1.50 a day.
Every day Australian aid is making a difference in individuals’ lives, the lives of their families and benefiting their communities.
The new minister has a responsibility to see that good work continue. Mr Carr has been handed a pretty good script to work with.
Getting the performance right is the challenge.
This opinion editorial was first published in The Advertiser on Tuesday 6 March 2012.