Since the world community made the concerted decision to end extreme poverty - influenced by the likes of Bono, Bill Gates and other global leaders who implored us to act - millions of lives have been saved.

In Ghana, 1.5 million people have been lifted out of poverty thanks to the annual $500 million in aid the country received in the 1990s alone. In Mozambique, debt relief enabled $18.5 million to be spent on health, which saw free life-saving immunizations for 500,000 children. In eastern, southern and south-eastern Asia, there are more than 200 million fewer people living in sub-human conditions since 1990 because of policies designed to reduce poverty.

"Despite the significant inroads already made there is still such a long, long way to go. With 30,000 children dying each day because of extreme poverty - many for the lack of a 20 cent immunisation - the urgency is as great as ever."

And all this because the global community and its leaders decided to combat poverty by implementing such policies as debt relief, trade justice and aid effectiveness.

It is for this reason that Make Poverty History welcomes the G20 to Melbourne and sees it as a positive, unprecedented opportunity to take the next leap forward in the fight to stop poverty. 

Unlike the G8, the G20 includes both developed and developing members - such as India, Brazil and China - and represents about 85 per cent of the global economy and 60 per cent of its population. 

Therefore as the world’s most representative body addressing global challenges, one of the most important decisions the G20 can make in Melbourne would be to lift debt and aid commitments both multilaterally and bilaterally for Australia. 

Despite the significant inroads already made there is still such a long, long way to go. With 30,000 children dying each day because of extreme poverty - many for the lack of a 20 cent immunisation - the urgency is as great as ever. With more than 1 billion people around the world living on less than $1 a day, we cannot afford to be complacent.

We appeal to all participants, and particularly Australia as the host nation, to build on the gains already made at the 2005 G8 summit, and initiate steps for action, to make an historic contribution.

Thankfully aid effectiveness is an item on the G20 agenda. However, we know how agendas slip through the net. Rather than paying lip service to the issues, the G20 must outline steps and actions to tackle extreme poverty by providing debt relief and better aid.

On aid many rich countries at the 2005 G8 committed to investing 0.5 per cent of national income by 2010 and 0.7 per cent by 2015. But there is growing concern that aid commitments made at the G8 won’t be realised or are being diverted to non-poverty related areas. For example, OECD figures reveal that 80 per cent of aid increases in 2005 went to Iraq and Nigeria, a trend Australia has followed with most of the aid increase in the 2006 budget spent on Iraqi wheat debts.

So the G20 must ensure accountability to G8 Gleneagles aid commitments. More specifically Australia should join other rich nations by committing to 0.5 per cent of national aid investment by 2010 and 0.7 per cent by 2015.

On debt, around $50 billion worth of debts have been cancelled for about 18 out of 40 of the world’s poorest countries in the past year, amounting to $1.25 billion a year across 40 years. However this debt cancellation represents just 10 per cent of the poorest countries debt , with much of that debt relief flowing after 2015.

So ideally the G20 will broaden debt cancellation criteria to include debts that prevent achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. The MDGs are a global plan that aim to reduce poverty by 2015, agreed to by 190 world leaders - including Prime Minister John Howard in 2000. The MDGs encompass a range of poverty indicators from health to education. According to the Jubilee Debt campaign, low income countries have about $500 billion of debt and they need debt relief of $10 billion per year to reach the MDGs.

"The fact is the world - and most importantly, voters - want leaders to act."

Likewise Australia can lead the way by cancelling or swapping bilateral debts that prevent achievement of the MDGs with countries such as Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka. 

Surely these small steps are achievable when compared to the strides already made, and particularly when compared to the vast injustice that is extreme poverty?

However, if human suffering alone does not provide motivation enough for the G20 and other world leaders to accelerate change then surely events this week in the lead up to their arrival will provide sufficient incentive for further action.

Thanks to the 50 aid, development and faith groups that work with the Make Poverty History coalition, millions across Australia have this past month voiced their support for the cause, demanding immediate action. This week alone thousands will take part in a concert featuring leading Australian bands at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, as well as a festival at Alexandra Gardens and a forum of speakers at the Melbourne Town Hall. 

These events are building on actions in 2005 that saw 30 million people in 70 countries demand – in the words of Nelson Mandela  - that global leaders overcome the injustice of poverty.

The fact is the world - and most importantly, voters - want leaders to act.

We’ve seen some important progress and if leaders keep their promises - and build on promises already made - millions of lives will be saved every year. The Australian public and the world at large is watching for leaders to take the next steps in the fight to make poverty history. The G20 provides that opportunity.

This article was first published in The Age newspaper.