31st August, 2013

PICTURE: Courtesy of Micah Challenge.

Thousands of people formed the giant words 'Halve Poverty 2015' on Manly Beach in Sydney today in a message directed at Opposition Leader Tony Abbott.

The event was coordinated by Seaforth Baptist Church as part of Micah Challenge's Finish the Race campaign. The campaign is pushing for politicians - including Mr Abbott who is the member for Warringah, a federal electorate which includes Manly Beach - to do all they can to ensure Australia remains committed to helping the world achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

Vikki Howorth, social justice pastor at Seaforth Baptist, says the church wanted "to ensure that a commitment to fighting global poverty is on the political agenda in the run up to the election".

"We"re thrilled that the "Halve Poverty" event has provided a unique and powerful opportunity for our church to unite with other churches, community groups and schools in the Warringah electorate and together take action on behalf of the poor," she said.

The event - which involved people from local churches, schools and community groups as well as global poverty advocates from across the country - was supported by the Movement to End Poverty, a joint action of the Micah Challenge and Make Poverty History.

A petition which encouraged Mr Abbott to increase Australia"s overseas aid giving to 0.7 per cent of gross national income by 2020 - equating to just 70 cents in every $100 - was presented to Mr Mike Baird, NSW Treasurer and State Liberal member for Manly on behalf of Mr Abbott. The petition, which was launched by the Movement to End Poverty, contained 80,000 signatures.

Micah Challenge says both major political parties have been wavering in their commitment to a "generous and effective" aid program in the last 18 months. While the ALP has removed more than $6 billion of planned aid expenditure since the May 2012 Budget, the Coalition has failed to announce a timetable for reaching the bipartisan commitment to increasing aid to 0.5 per cent of Australia"s GNI.

John Beckett, national coordinator of Micah Challenge, said while the movement was pleased there was still a bipartisan commitment to increasing Australia"s aid budget to 0.5 per cent, "we"re using this event to call on Mr Abbott and his party to specify a date by which this target should be reached".

In a response from Mr Abbott delivered by Mr Baird, Mr Abbott said while Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and his predecessor, Julia Gillard, made many promises about foreign aid "and never kept them", "I would rather under promise and over deliver and in doing so, keep faith with you". "My commitment is to build a stronger Australia with a strong prosperous economy - because it is only through building a strong economy that we can pay for the services and the aspirations we all want to achieve."

- www.finish2015.com.au

- DAVID ADAMS