Cuts to overseas foreign aid.
As a nation, we are becoming increasingly myopic. Our focus on self-interest no matter the cost hit a new time low this week when the Federal Treasurer announced new cost saving measures.
Once again, our global responsibilities took a pounding. Early in December the Senate passed amendments to the Migration and Maritime Powers Act allowing the Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, to act contrary to international law. On Monday Joe Hockey announced a further $3.7 billion cut to Australia’s overseas aid budget, bringing the total cuts to $11.3 billion since the Coalition came to power last year.
The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) described the decision as taking ‘a wrecking ball to Australia’s aid program’. Plan International accused the Treasurer of treating the aid budget as ‘a piggy bank to be raided to plug its fiscal holes’. Oxfam Australia used a similar analogy, suggesting the government regarded foreign aid as an ATM with which ministers can make easy withdrawals ‘without due consideration of the long-term impact’.
These claims are not just hyperbole. To give some insight into how $3.7 billion could be spent (recognising that it is distributed across numerous programs run by AusAID and professional and dedicated not-for-profit aid and development agencies), Oxfam provided a possible breakdown:
That is enough to purchase over 240 million life-saving hygiene kits for communities affected by Ebola. It is enough for around 74 million sets of basic humanitarian provisions for families affected by natural disasters. And, $3.7 billion could provide over 80 million families with clean, safe drinking water in Africa.
How much is our nation spending over Christmas? The Australian Retailers Association has predicted that over the six week pre-Christmas lead-in, Australians will spend $45 billion. Crosslight understands that people need to keep consuming to keep our economy buoyant. However, the figures can give a little context to the Government’s willingness to slash funds earmarked for the poorest people of the world.
We don’t make enough noise to protest such decisions. Our focus remains insular and self-serving. 132 Pakistani school children were gunned down in an attack by the Taliban overnight. The media has reported it, but it will disappear from our newsfeeds quickly.
The international aid and development community is calling on the government and opposition to support formal oversight of the overseas aid budget. Legislation would ensure that cuts to foreign aid could be properly reviewed and monitored, instead of the current easy way of accessing short term funding shortfalls.
As Ian Wishart, CEO of Plan International said, “It is impossible to understand how these latest cuts ‘take the long view’. What sort of a legacy is the government leaving for the governments that will inevitably follow? How will they repair the damage being done right now?”
We are a blinkered nation. We have turned our back on climate change initiatives. We have turned our back on frightened people fleeing for their lives from homelands in political disarray. And now we have turned our back on the poor, stopping children from realising their full potential because education, health and agricultural programs will be closed down because of loss of funding.
Please make your voices heard. This is not the nation we have been. Can we change our government from defining whom we are becoming?
Originally published in Crosslight by Penny Mulvey
Inter-faith Awards for 2014
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WRITING A NEW STORY FOR SRI LANKA
Concert and Harmony Cup Cricket, March 23rd Wesley College
The Uniting Church’s Uniting through Faiths project was recently involved in a major initiative aimed at bringing together the divided community of Sri Lankans living in Melbourne. This is a large multi-faith and multi-lingual community of educated and successful Australians who are beginning the difficult post-war journey of reconciliation and peace-building, both here and in their homeland, after thirty years of protracted and bloody civil war.
More than three hundred people attended this inaugural community event which was open to all Sri Lankans and friends of Sri Lanka. Harmony Day 2014 was so successful that it will now become an annual fixture in the Sri Lankan Diaspora’s calendar. It was held on a Sunday afternoon in March at the beautiful Wesley College campus in Glen Waverly and involved sharing food together, enjoying a concert and then partaking of the traditional glue that brings Sri Lankans together, a game of cricket on the green.
This important work of healing was instigated by UCA ministers from Tamil, Sinhalese and Burgher backgrounds who were encouraged to embark on a pilgrimage back to Sri Lanka in 2012 by CFM director Rev David Pargeter. That experience of pilgrimage energised these ministers to continue their work across faiths and ethnic divides. One of them, Rev Raja Rajakulendran, even chose to return as a volunteer to Sri Lanka after 20 years away. The others focussed on the divided diaspora here in Melbourne.
Harmony Day was organised by a group called Sri Lanka Invites headed by eminent Sri Lankans Professor David De Kretser (former Governor of Victoria) and Judge Christy Weeramantry (formerly on the International Court of Justice). They led a group of Sri Lankans of various backgrounds who are continuing a journey of peace and reconciliation. Their primary aim is to pave the way for Sri Lankans living in Melbourne to meet and form links beyond and across religious, ethnic, political, cultural and other divides.
Harmony Day began at noon with a feast of spicy Sri Lankan food provided by Shanaka Fernando’s famous ideological restaurant ‘Lentil as Anything’ based at the Abbotsford Convent. This not for profit community restaurant has no prices on its menu. One pays only by donation, and this ‘contributes towards a world where respect, generosity, trust, equality, freedom and kindness rule’. The conversations around the food began the healing.
This tasty Sri Lankan lunch was followed by a vibrant multi-cultural concert of dance, poetry, music and song. It began with children of all religions lighting the traditional oil lamp. This was followed by the children’s choir singing ‘We are One’ from the Lion King, they sang:
We are one, you and I
We are like the earth and sky
One family under the sun
We then heard inspirational speeches from two young people about a youth organisation working for reconciliation back home. Sri Lanka Unites brings senior school children together at an annual conference where they discuss, work and play together for five days before finding the healing strength to ask for forgiveness for the pain of the war. Five hundred youth embrace and forgive each other. Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist all representing the richness of our diversity.
We finished the concert with the Choirmaster Rushan Hewawasam leading all 300 guests in a rousing chorus of ‘You Raise Me Up’ – we sang….
“When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary;
When troubles come and my heart burdened be;
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence,
Until you come and sit awhile with me.
You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up… To more than I can be.
And finally, the icing on the cake for Sri Lankan Harmony Day was the cricket match. This was a 20/20 encounter played with great heart by two young multi-ethnic and multi-faith teams brought together just for this event. They were joined in competition for the Harmony Cup, one team from Lentil as Anything versus a team from Sri Lanka Unites – a beautiful ending to a perfect day of Harmony in action.
Sri Lanka Invites: Ms Maheshini Perera, Mr Rushan Hewawasam, Mr Larry Marshall, Professor David De Kretser, Professor Paul Komesaroff; Mr Mohamed Mohideen
- This event was supported by the Commission for Mission’s Uniting Through Faiths Project and funded from the generous gifts of support from the Lenten appeal run by SHARE in 2013 which aimed at bringing the Sri Lankan diaspora into meaningful interaction.
In December, three poets of different faiths entertained and challenged synod staff over a special lunch to celebrate diversity through Slam Poetry. Slam Poetry is a competitive public performance where participants read or recite original poems and audience reaction determines the winner.
Organised by the Commission for Mission’s Uniting Through Faiths unit, the event included a Q&A facilitated by project officer Larry Marshall.
See three videos of the event below: