Sydney, Australia

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbour as yourself." - Luke 10:27. 

We are probably all familiar with Jesus’ words. What we sometimes forget is that when Jesus speaks these words, He is pointing to an older scriptural tradition that would have been immediately familiar to His Jewish hearers. Listen again to the words of Deuteronomy 6:5: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might."

When Jesus is asked about the most important command, He takes us back to Deuteronomy. It is a book concerned with the ways our love for God should shape the way we order our lives together - with the real-world questions of political economy of how we care for the widow, the orphan, the refugee, and the person living in poverty. It is a tradition in which, as Walter Brueggemann reminds us, "love of God is not primarily a 'religious act'...love of God is faithful, responsible participation in the political economy’. 

Australia Josh Frydenburg and Scott Morrison

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg hold a news conference in Canberra, Australia, on 24th August, 2018. PICTURE: Reuters/David Gray/File photo.

That reminder is helpful for us as we come to budget night. Rev Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners, has written that budget numbers are the mathematical expression of what we value as a society. So with that in mind, what did the recent budget tell us about our values when it comes to supporting people facing crisis and poverty globally?

Refugees: We welcome the announcement that 16,500 additional places for refugees coming from Afghanistan have been budgeted for over the next four years. Perhaps more than anything else in the budget, this reflects what can happen when people of faith faithfully and responsibly participate. 

"On balance, like any budget, there is a mix of good and bad. But within announcements like the increase in refugee numbers from Afghanistan, we see the progress that can occur when we step into the tradition exemplified by Biblical prophets who spoke out clearly and consistently for justice."

Back in January, the government tried to fiddle with the numbers to make it look as though it was doing something when underneath nothing was really changing. Thanks to the persistent and prophetic witness of many refugee advocates - including many Christians through the Christians United for Afghanistan campaign - the government was forced to look at their response again. Last night we saw what that meant 16,500 Afghans will be provided safety and protection in Australia. 

Aid budget: We also welcome the headline that the aid budget will be increasing in the year ahead. When all of the components are added together and compared to the final amount spent in the current year, the total will increase by $A92.4 million. Within that, some priorities go up and others down.

Important components include $A379.3 million for vaccine access, health security and COVID-19 response packages - particularly in the Pacific. Christians who advocated with other health, business and community leaders through the End Covid for All campaign have again played an important role in achieving this outcome. Other encouraging new initiatives include a program to support gender equality in South East Asia, and a small increase in humanitarian funding for protracted crises like Afghanistan, Myanmar and Ukraine.

 



While the uptick is welcome, there is more work to do. As a percentage of gross national income, the aid budget remains stuck at the same level as last year - 0.2 per cent compared to the agreed UN target of 0.7 per cent and the current average among wealthy nations of 0.32 per cent.  

This means Australia remains one of the least generous nations in the world. The real kicker is in the forward estimates which are currently projecting that aid as a proportion of GNI will start falling again from the following year.

Climate change: A more disappointing story. We know that the climate change impacts are greatest on those who are most vulnerable, both globally and within Australia. This budget continues to provide some climate financing to developing countries in our region in line with commitments the government already announced in the lead up to the Glasgow climate commit last year, but these remain well below Australia’s fair share of what is needed. (We’ve committed $A2 billion by 2025, our fair share is at least $A12 billion by 2030!) There are also cuts in the years ahead to some of the domestic agencies that will help reduce Australia’s contribution to the problem.

Sight banner angle2

On balance, like any budget, there is a mix of good and bad. But within announcements like the increase in refugee numbers from Afghanistan, we see the progress that can occur when we step into the tradition exemplified by Biblical prophets who spoke out clearly and consistently for justice.

Over the coming weeks Australia will move from a faux election campaign into the real one. The temperature of public discourse will continue to increase. Debates will be held, promises will be made, significant policy issues will be reduced to superficial marketing slogans. At the end of it, votes will be cast. 

For the Christian community, the question is not ‘which political tribe do you belong to?’ It is instead, ‘how do we faithfully and responsibly participate in the political economy of our country?’

This question should inform how we vote, but it also goes well beyond that. It goes to the questions we need to ask all political parties about what more they will do to respond to injustice at home and around the world. It means we need to put up our hands to get involved directly. It means we need to commit to maintaining attention and holding accountable whoever is elected in May for delivering the things they have promised.

The budget has shown us one set of values; the question for Christians is are we prepared to participate faithfully and responsibly to champion another? 

peter keegan2

Peter Keegan is director of advocacy at Baptist World Aid Australia.