Most of us wouldn’t blink an eye at handing over $3 for a morning takeaway coffee.
Interestingly enough, that’s about how much Australia spends, per person, per week, on helping to improve the lives of the world’s poorest people.
There is no other area of Australian government spending where for the price of a cup of coffee a week, we are making such huge, life-saving differences in people’s lives.
Less than $3 can immunise a baby against life-threatening diseases such as tetanus and diphtheria.
It can buy a Cambodian family a bunch of fruit trees so they can increase the amount of food they have to eat.
Or it can buy a refugee in East Africa a 20-litre jerry can, allowing them to carry and store water for their family. That’s pretty good value for a couple of gold coins.
Back in 2007, both major political parties committed to seeing the aid budget reach 0.5 per cent of our national income by 2015.
That’s the equivalent of 50 cents out of every $100 dollars of our income that goes to helping the world’s poorest people.
If last year’s budget forward estimates are on track, aid spending in next month’s federal budget is due to reach 0.38 per cent of our national income, an increase of about $700 million.
Wayne Swan’s budget is likely to be a tough one. The government will need to make difficult choices to deliver its promised budget surplus.
But there’s another promise the government needs to keep – and that’s its word to help the world’s poorest mothers, children and families.
The upcoming budget will test the strength of Australia’s convictions to help improve the lives of the world’s poor, many of who live in nearby countries.
New OECD figures on aid, released last week, show global aid spending among the world’s wealthiest countries had been cut for the first time in 14 years.
This makes Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s promise to increase Australia’s aid budget even more important.
Times are tough, but as the Treasurer says, Australia’s government debt and budget deficits are lower than any of the major advanced economies.
Reaching the 0.5 per cent target represents the fulfillment of a promise – but this is not the only reason why getting there is important.
It will bring us to the average level of aid spending of the world’s wealthiest countries, and put us on the right path to the internationally agreed target of 0.7 per cent.
It will also help us to lift many more people out of poverty as we reach the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals – global goals to halve the number of people living in poverty.
Just recently in the UK, the House of Lords economics committee published a report urging the UK government to drop its commitment to spending 0.7 per cent of national income on aid.
It was positive to see both the government and the opposition in the UK respond immediately by reaffirming their commitment to the 0.7 per cent target.
Our focus in Australia should not be about fighting for the much-needed growth in the aid budget. This growth is already a given, indeed it is an on-the-record promise from both parties.
Rather, our focus in Australia is to make sure we make the best use of this money to make sure it does the strongest job in fighting poverty.
The recommendations out of last year’s Independent Review of Aid Effectiveness will put us on a good path towards making sure our aid is as effective as it can be.
We now have a powerful combination of a growing and more effective Australian aid budget.
Australians have already helped to do so much. Our aid has helped build thousands of schools in Indonesia, reduced malaria rates in the Solomon Islands by more than half, and trained 10,000 midwives in Pakistan.
And all this for the price of a cup of coffee a week. It’s exciting to think of what we’ll soon be able to achieve with just that little bit more – once the Prime Minister delivers on her promise.
This opinion editorial was first published by the National Times on 13 April 2012.