Christians put global poverty deadline on nation’s agenda
Hundreds of Christians from across the country joined politicians at Parliament House on September 18 as they added their photos to a giant “2015” puzzle — a symbol of Australia’s commitment to halve global poverty by 2015.
Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Labor MP Peter Garrett, Greens’ Senator Lee Rhiannon and independent MP Rob Oakeshott were among a group of federal MPs and Senators representing most parties who added their faces to the puzzle in support of ending poverty.
They were joined by a group of anti-poverty campaigners in Canberra for Micah Challenge’s annual Voices for Justice event, urging politicians to finish what Australia started when the Government signed onto the UN Millennium Development Goals in 2000.
According to Micah Challenge’s National Coordinator John Beckett, significant progress is being made towards the Millennium Development Goals in every country that receives Australian aid, which is why it is crucial to keep global poverty on the political agenda.
“It is great to see our political leaders come out in such strong support of such important goals. Goals which have, in some cases, already been achieved. In other cases many inroads have been made,” Mr Beckett said.
“In the top ten Australian aid recipients, child mortality has fallen from between 30 to 70 per cent since 1990. For example, in one of our closest neighbouring countries East Timor, one in every six children was dying but that number is now all the way down to one in every 20.
“Worldwide, five million more children are living to celebrate their fifth birthday than in 1990 and aid has played a significant part in that progress. We know that aid works.
“But we are still off track when it comes to the Millennium Development Goals that target hunger, education and health.
“We know that aid is effective for saving lives, and yet we currently give just 0.35% of national income to overseas aid — or 35 cents in every $100 — which is still a far cry from the UN target of 0.7%.”
Mr Beckett said, “Over the years, both the Government and Opposition have talked about increasing overseas aid but it’s now time to turn intention into action.”
Anti-poverty campaigners held around 100 private meetings with MPs and Senators to encourage all parties to support an increase in Australia’s overseas aid.
Micah Challenge and Make Poverty History launched a new report on Millennium Development Goal progress at the Voices for Justice event and all MPs and Senators were asked to pledge renewed commitment to the international goals.
Voices for Justice
Voices for Justice is part of a global network inspired by the prophet Micah’s call to “do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).
It brings together participants of all ages from major denominations across Australia for worship, training and one-on-one meetings with politicians.
Previous Voices for Justice events contributed to such policy changes as a debt-swap with Indonesia to increase investments in health, water and sanitation through Australia’s aid program.
Many Australian Christians donate to charity, but Angela Owen, Micah Challenge Australia media and communications coordinator, said Christian faith also demands political action.
“Government has a biblical role of caring for the poor and needy, and as God’s people, we need to ensure that the poor and vulnerable in our world are protected and cared for,” she said.
“Voices for Justice also comes from other commands in the Bible to speak out on behalf of the poor and the oppressed. So that’s the basis of why we exist — because we believe that speaking on behalf of the poor is a direct command from God.”
Rebecca Gay, a 16-year-old from rural New South Wales, met with Senator Natasha Waters to discuss Australia’s aid commitment. “I’ve always been passionate about social justice, and this is a really good way to get some experience in advocacy and to put that into action,” Rebecca said.
Katerina Arbon attended Voices for Justice last year with some friends from UCATSA at Newcastle Uni.
She said, “It was a great experience and we were very excited to be a part of it again this year. I’m passionate about social justice, and Micah Challenge gave me an opportunity to learn more about how I can get involved and help to make the public and, in particular, politicians more aware about what Australia has pledged to do to help with reducing poverty, as can be seen in the Millennium Development Goals.
“The four-day event is a great positive experience for everyone involved and we do get a lot of positive feedback from some of the politicians. I was lucky enough to meet with Minister Peter Garrett this year, which was a great experience!
“It’s not one that I’m going to forget too quickly.”
Andrew Miller from Forestville Uniting Church went to Voices for Justice to see what it was all about.
“The first thing I noticed — and it showed up time and time again over the four days — was the outward display of faith from all the people there. They had come to address world poverty and the Millennium Development Goals but they were there because Jesus was telling them to be there and his power was what was going to help them make a difference.
“I met with several politicians from all parties in the time there and it was great to see their faith on display and that they too wanted to be part of solving this problem.
“I came away with a belief that if we continue to pray and to the Lord’s bidding we will eradicate world poverty. Yes it is a huge problem but be optimistic that we can solve it.”
Bec Reidy from Emu Plains Uniting Church had been to four previous Voices for Justice events.
“I just love being a part of Voices for Justice each year. I think the Bible is very clear about our responsibility to look out for the needs of the poor and marginalised and I take that responsibility very seriously.
“Going as a large group and talking to MPs about practical ways that we help the global poor is a powerful way to demonstrate a constituency to them which gives them the power to act.
“Each year, they constantly tell us that our campaign is extremely effective. I think that the power partly comes from the fact that Voices is made up of a group of about 300 citizens who are volunteer nonprofessional lobbyists coming to Canberra to speak up for a cause that none of us have a vested interest in.”
As 2015 draws closer, Micah Challenge Australia is broadening its campaign from individual grassroots support to engaging churches through its Finish the Race Campaign. With an election due next year, Micah Challenge hopes to keep global poverty on the political agenda.