By Angela Dorizas
Australia must invest in foreign aid and trade if it is to manage population growth and future security threats, the head of World Vision has said.
In an interview with Government News, World Vision chief executive Tim Costello said he welcomed an increase in foreign aid in the 2010-11 Budget, but called for much greater support for Australia’s nearest neighbours.
“The quite extraordinary thing that I think Australians haven’t realised yet is that the best investment you can make is actually in our region,” Rev Costello said.
“If we are self indulgent about how many people we want and are not good neighbours by investing in poor communities that have been trading with us and buying our goods, there will be a trade backlash, there will be a political backlash.
“In a global village, no nation can now appear to be insensitive or arrogant with its trading partners. Aid says ‘we are a good neighbour’.”
Rev Costello said an increase in foreign aid would reduce global population growth, dismissing the argument that overpopulation caused poverty.
“People get it the wrong way around. It is poverty that causes population growth,” he said.
“If you don’t have unemployment benefits, sickness benefits, or a pension when you retire, the most rational choice you can make – and our grandparents did it – was to have a number of kids to help support you.”
He urged the Rudd Government to make good on its commitment to the Millennium Development Goals, under which Australia agreed to give 0.7 per cent of GDP to developing nations by 2015.
“Australia is at 0.33 per cent. Kevin Rudd has promised to get to 0.5 per cent by 2015 and Tony Abbott at the moment is saying that it’s bipartisan.”
He said Australia was the second most generous nation in the world based on per capita giving through private donations, but government aid was lagging.
“The rest of the world finds it puzzling, knowing that Australians are generous, that our government is a laggard, not a leader.”
Closer to home
Rev Costello said it was a “disgrace” that Australia’s remote Indigenous communities still faced third-world conditions.
“I have to be honest and say I don’t have an answer,” Rev Costello said.
“My job is to really solely, consistently back Indigenous leaders to own their future, and to lead in seeking to address this scandal of third-world conditions.”
Rev Costello said World Vision teams often found Indigenous aid programs in Australia to be more challenging than their operations in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
When asked what was the greatest challenge in addressing Indigenous disadvantage, he said it was the “complex labyrinth” of bureaucratic processes disempowering communities.
This, he added, was driven by a “false notion of accountability”, where those controlling the budget felt a need to monitor and regulate service delivery carried out by other levels of government or other departments.
“There should be a much more seamless cooperation between the three tiers of government,” he told Government News.
“We have to simplify and decrease the supply chain of bureaucrats.”
Rev Costello said local government could also play a critical role in providing Indigenous Australians with traineeships and mentoring, employment, community involvement and most important, a sense of identity and value.
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