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Australian Aid Tag

The Foreign Affairs and Aid Subcommittee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade has begun a series of roundtable public hearings to inform the inquiry into strengthening Australia’s relationships with the Pacific Islands.

The Sub-Committee was asked to inquire into how Australia could meet current and emerging opportunities and challenges facing the Pacific island region.

The initial roundtable on June 18 heard witnesses from non-government and intergovernmental organisations working with partners in the Pacific region. UnitingWorld National Director Dr Sureka Goringe was invited as a witness to present to the Sub-Committee and answer questions.

Dr Goringe’s initial comments to the roundtable are below, and the full transcript can be found here (which also contains responses to follow-up questions from Committee members).


We are the aid and partnerships agency of the Uniting Church and, through our relationships with the churches in the Pacific, we have a history that goes for over a hundred years of connecting and collaborating with Pacific island churches and church communities. That’s historically been in collaborations in social services like health, education and WASH, and in more recent times the collaborations have also included support for building up governance and leadership capacity, supporting Pacific churches to do sustainable community development in the Pacific communities, and working on gender equality, in particular around women’s equality and the safeguarding of children. Our perspective is one of both an aid organisation and a church relational organisation which has very deep connections throughout the Pacific.

Our primary recommendation to this inquiry was that our relationships with the Pacific really need to engage with churches in the Pacific, churches being probably the strongest and most influential civil society organisations in the Pacific. Engaging with them has a whole range of reasons around it, which include the fact that they are deeply embedded in community and are very influential in the public. You can build on a very long relationship between Australian churches and Pacific churches, a history of collaboration and mutual respect. Also, the Pacific diaspora in Australia is very active within Australian churches. To channel that and to leverage those connections between the Australian Pacific diaspora and Pacific communities, working through churches, would be very useful. And, finally, churches, as established local community institutions within Pacific countries, have leadership structures at sub-national, national and also regional levels that give us hooks for the Pacific step-up program to connect with and meet people. I think it’s a channel into deep community grassroots as well as highly connected and influential aspects.

Our second recommendation is the Pacific step-up and the building up of relationships in the Pacific really need to be centred on the aspirations of Pacific Island people, and I think that kind of manifests in a couple of different ways in our experience. For us, the biggest thing is that it requires Australia to deal with the issue of climate change with integrity. Before the pandemic wiped everything else off people’s agendas, climate change was the No. 1 issue to worry about. Climate change remains, still, the biggest existential threat to life in the Pacific. And if we don’t engage with Pacific people with a willingness to grapple with that, we have the risk of undermining everything else that we try to do with the step-up initiative.

The second thing that comes out of that—that is, if we focus our desire to build relationships with the Pacific on the needs of the Pacific people—is there is, in our experience of engaging very widely across many countries, a desire for models of development that are not just a mimic of the Western model of development that Australia may have pursued in terms of industrialisation and trade. There is obviously desire for an improvement in quality of living and access to services, but there is also a very strong desire for tapping into Indigenous knowledge, being conscious of social and cultural values in development. In particular, for the past 12 months we have been engaging with a movement called Reweaving the Ecological Map, which is a collaboration between universities and churches in the Pacific. It is actually trying to put together a framework for development, from a Pacific perspective, that brings together the value of the natural environment, and the social, emotional health and wellbeing of people as well as the economic wellbeing of the community. We have an opportunity here. This is a moment in time where Australia could step in—not step in, but step up to partner, to nurture, to support and to accompany Pacific countries in a journey of development that is driven by their own agenda. This is a great opportunity for us to have a huge amount of integrity, rather than necessarily driving development in the Pacific based on our own understanding of what is the right solution.

Another aspect of the needs of communities and people in our relationship is just making sure that with the things we are doing to support Pacific economies, like the labour mobility programs that we’ve got—both of them—that we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot by creating economic wellbeing at the expense of community. We are finding at community level that long-term absences of working-age parent cohorts cause significant harm to families, and there is a price being paid at the community level for having Pacific Islanders spending long times working in Australia. We’re not saying we should stop that; we’re just saying those schemes need to be re-evaluated to look at social impacts. As an aid organisation we’re being asked by communities to support them to address the social problems that are being caused by the absence of adults when children are growing up, so issues of dependency, abuse of alcohol and other substances, gambling, pornography and whole range of other issues when parents are absent from communities for lengths of time.

And the last aspect of what we’re really recommending to this committee is the whole-of-government aspect and how Australia’s efforts to approach the Pacific through the step-up is perceived in many places as being fairly self-serving. We’re hearing back this idea that Australia was treating the Pacific like a pawn in a game of a regional stand-off with China. I think we need to make sure that other policies and how we work holistically, particularly in trade agreements around our aid program, and in particular how we as a country address climate change with our internal policies, is going to play a significant role in whether our approach to the Pacific is seen to be genuine and have the interests of both parties. The Pacific’s relationship with Australia is very strong. One of the most profound experiences for us in the last months is realising that when, during the summer of the bushfires, when Australia was going through a pretty tough time, all of our Pacific partners raised money for the Australian churches’ emergency effort. This contribution and this mutuality is a very strong base from which to build.

I’ll wrap up by saying that we have very strong relationships between Australia and the Pacific, particularly through the churches and through a huge amount of collaborative work that has been done in social and sustainable community development. But that approach will have to be built on assertiveness in the Pacific and a willingness to grapple with climate change and our ability to make sure that things that we do in one place don’t backfire in other places. That’s what’d we’d like to say, and we’re very happy to take questions later.

The Committee is accepting submissions for the inquiry until Tuesday, 30 June 2020 and is keen to hear views from within Pacific island countries, individuals who have participated in labour mobility schemes and those who have settled permanently in Australia, amongst others.

The Uniting Church in Australia (UCA) has made a submission to the new International Development Policy currently under review by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).

The review was announced in December 2019 and invited members of the public and international development community to give input into the new policy.

UnitingWorld helped develop the UCA submission, and recommended that the International Development Policy:

      • targets the alleviation of poverty and inequality as a primary objective, understanding that this will best serve Australia’s national interests
      • prioritises development that is demonstrably owned and driven by the communities it seeks to impact
      • recognises the unique roles of churches and faith communities in delivering social change and seeks to target them as development partners
      • acknowledges climate change as the most significant cross-cutting issue that impacts security, stability, prosperity and resilience in Australia and beyond.

Read the full UCA submission here

UnitingWorld, as a member agency, also contributed to the submissions of the following coalitions: the Australian Council For International Development (ACFID), Micah Australia and the Church Agencies Network. (Click  links to read the submissions).

Submissions close Friday 14 February 2020.

UnitingWorld is the international aid and partnerships agency of the Uniting Church in Australia, collaborating for a world free from poverty and injustice.

“It’s our choices that matter in the end. Not wishes, not words, not promises.”

How many choices do you think you might make each day? Researchers suggest it’s about 35,000 choices – 227 relating to food alone.

Little wonder so many of us have choice paralysis! So what guides our decisions? Some are impulsive, some are emotional, some come from rationally weighing up the facts. Too many are just unconscious, routine. We do things because it’s the way we’ve always done them. But as so many people have pointed out, it’s our daily choices that become habit, habit that becomes character and character that becomes our destiny. That means our choices are powerful – even the ones we might not think matter all that much.

We went to a small community in Papua New Guinea to film an interactive video that allows you to make choices revealing what life is like as a young person living with limited options in a developing country. If you haven’t already tried it out, you can find it here: http://www.unitingworld.org.au/choice

The video highlights that “35,000 choices a day” don’t include most of the world’s poor. In Papua New Guinea, the third most difficult place in the world to access clean water, most people have only one water source – and it’s often dirty enough to kill them. One person dies every minute around the world from complications relating to dirty water. Most of them are children. But faced with little awareness about clean water and sanitation, what real choices are there? Lack of options for handwashing and clean water force people to choose unsafe sources, a lifestyle that can kill.

Papua New Guinea is the third most difficult place in the world to access clean water

We’re training health workers who are changing all that, and your choice to get involved makes a huge difference. When you donate to our water and sanitation work, as many of you already have, you’re supporting communities to gain access to clean water and learn new habits that save lives. It’s such a simple act that makes such a huge difference.

Thank you to everyone who has already made the decision to get involved in this work. Your gifts, combined with funding from the Australian Government,* mean that our partners are excited about the ways we can expand the work to many more communities in Papua New Guinea, West Timor, Bali and Zimbabwe.

Together, through our determined daily choices to be people of generosity and compassion, we’re building a world where people can thrive no matter what their circumstances. Thank you!

*As a partner of the Australian Government, UnitingWorld receives flexible funding under the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) each year to implement development and poverty alleviation programs overseas.

Every donation you make to this project will be combined with funding from the Australian Government to reach more people. We have committed to contribute $1 for every $5 we receive from the Australian government. Your donation will allow us to extend our programs.

Pic: Local change agents teach a community about water, sanitation and hygiene in Papua New Guinea.

The new interactive video highlights the difficult choices faced by people working to overcome poverty.

The video follows the story of 15-year-old Rani, who lives in a remote costal village in Papua New Guinea. With limited access to reliable water, she must make difficult choices every day that put her health, education and safety at risk.

The interactive video aims to highlight how the restriction of choices in the developing world can be fatal, and how we in Australia can use our own choices to make a difference. Watch it here.

Give the power of choice

You can help communities like Rani’s by giving a gift before June 30.

Thanks to our partnership with the Australian Government, your tax-deductible gift can go up to six times further in saving lives.

As a partner of the Australian Government, UnitingWorld can access funding for certain projects to help us reach more people. In order to receive Australian Aid funding, we are required to contribute $1 for every $5 we can access. That means your gift goes up to six times further!

UnitingWorld is aiming to raise $450,000 this financial year to support our community development projects in Papua New Guinea, West Timor, Bali and Zimbabwe. Help us fund our partners and life-changing projects.

Click here to donate now.

Are you part of a church/community group? Click here to access fundraising resources to help us reach our goal!

Uniting Church in Australia President Dr Deidre Palmer and national church leaders respond to the 2019 Budget

The President of the Uniting Church in Australia Dr Deidre Palmer has encouraged Australians to put the urgent needs of others ahead of short-term self-interest, after the Federal Government delivered its 2019 Budget.

The Budget has promised, all going to plan, $158 billion in income tax cuts over a decade on the back of projected Budget surpluses.

Despite the positive projections though, the foreign aid budget has again been cut, and there is no improvement for Australians relying on welfare payments, particularly the Newstart allowance.

“As the contest for hearts and minds begins ahead of this year’s Federal Election, I urge Australians to give priority to justice, compassion and inclusion,” said Dr Palmer.

“The Budget, if passed by a future government, may offer some welcome tax relief. But at what cost?”

“The bottom line in this Budget is there is less support for the most vulnerable people in the most vulnerable nations, and less support for the most vulnerable at home.”

Aid agencies noted that foreign aid would drop to 0:19% of Gross National Income in 2021-22 – well below the short-term target of 0.3% supported by the Uniting Church and other advocates.

National Director of UnitingWorld Dr Sureka Goringe said the Budget failed both generous open-hearted Australian people and the vision of genuine regional partnership.

“We need to build trust and solidarity with our regional neighbours, working together to address inequality and injustice, not just pursue a narrow self-serving agenda,” said Dr Goringe.

Dr Palmer strongly criticised a $1.6 billion underspend on the National Disability Insurance Scheme in the coming financial year.

The Uniting Church President did however welcome a number of measures confirmed in the Budget.

“I applaud the boost for mental health and suicide prevention. This is important and timely. As is the confirmation of $328 million in funding to reduce violence against women and children.”

“I also welcome the funding set aside for a Royal Commission into the abuse and neglect of people with disability,” said Dr Palmer.

President of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress, Rev. Garry Dronfield welcomed the allocation of $5 million for prevention of youth suicide in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

“Unfortunately, it’s not enough to address the scale of crisis that we know exists,” said Rev. Dronfield.

“There needs to be funding for diversionary programs to keep our vulnerable young people from the dangers of incarceration.”

Rev. Dronfield also was concerned about the lack of self-determination in the extension to other Northern Territory and Queensland communities of the cashless debit card. “Choice should always be given to First Peoples,” he said.

Funding for co-design of the Indigenous Voice to Parliament was welcomed by Rev. Dronfield. However he noted: “If the Government had accepted the Statement from the Heart this would have been unnecessary.

Frontier Services’ National Director, Jannine Jackson welcomed extra funding of $5.5m over four years for mental health services for people in Tasmania, Victoria and Queensland who have been affected by natural disasters.

“Given our recent and ongoing experience with drought, fire and floods we’re continuing to express our concern for the growing disparity between metro and remote Australia.”

“We hope that some of this funding and the overall increase on mental health spending will be accessible to those living and working in remote Australia,” said Ms Jackson.

UnitingCare Australia National Director Claerwen Little has queried the Government’s priorities.

In a media statement issued on Budget night, Ms Little said: 

“A ‘surplus’ gained at the cost of allowing children to live in poverty, people with disabilities to go without the basic support they need, older Australians to die waiting for home care packages, and homelessness to reach record levels, does not measure up.”

Political commentators expect a Federal Election to be called as early as this weekend.

Last month, the Uniting Church in Australia published its 2019 Federal Election resource titled “Our Vision for a Just Australia.”

The Vision Statement outlines seven broad policy areas covering First Peoples, the environment, social inclusion, wellbeing, human rights, healthy communities and peacemaking. 

“Our vision, grounded in the life and mission of Jesus, is for Australia to be a just and compassionate nation in a world, where all can flourish.” said Dr Palmer.

“I urge all Australians to examine closely the policies on offer at the coming election, and hold those asking for their vote to account in building a just. compassionate and inclusive Australia.”

This statement has been republished from the Uniting Church in Australia Assembly article, ‘Shaping a Just, Compassionate and Inclusive Australia: UCA 2019 Budget response’

Here’s an interesting fact.

In 2016, a  survey of ordinary Aussies by the Campaign for Australian Aid found that most people believed the Australian Government was spending about 13% of our total budget on foreign aid.

“Way too high!”  the people shrieked.  “What about those in need here in Australia?  The homeless?  Our elderly?”

Fair enough. 13% is quite a lot… So if it were left up them, what did most people think was a reasonable percentage to spend on foreign aid?

On average?  Most people thought around 10% would be fair.

Say what? How much?  Yep: 10% of the Australian budget to be spent on foreign aid.

There’s a massive black hole between public perception and reality in the debate about Australian aid. Average Australians regularly state we give ‘too much’ to foreign aid.  Those same people think we should give ‘about 10%’.

Australia actually gives much less than 1% of its budget to foreign aid and its getting less every year.   

We give only 22 cents in every hundred dollars to life-saving vaccines, providing clean water and vital medical assistance.

Yet even such a tiny amount is helping us make some stunning progress toward overcoming poverty.

  • 2 billion people have been lifted out of poverty and the proportion living below the absolute poverty line has halved.
  • An additional 110 million children are in school, and over 90% of all children at primary level are now enrolled
  • Child deaths have been cut by half.

Australian Aid has contributed to much of this good news.

Imagine what we could achieve if we gave anywhere near the amount that average Aussies think is ‘reasonable’?

So how can you help create the change we need to see on this issue?

Post shouty rants at the Australian Government on Facebook?  Um, no.

  1. Join the Campaign For Australian Aid here and let your local politicians know that you care about supporting our neighbours to lift themselves out of poverty.  It’s good for all of us.
  2. Donate to projects that are supported by the Australian Government’s aid program.  This lets the Australian Government know you support well-administered, accountable aid.

Right now, the Australian Government wants to know what you think of us. They’re prepared to support us with significant funding, but they want to know you’ll back us with your own money first, because you know us best. For every $5 they make available to us through Australian Aid Funding, we need you to show your commitment with a donation of at least $1.

This is a big opportunity to show the Australian Government you care about Australian Aid funding and want to see it increased. And it will allow us to make your gift go up to six times as far this end of financial year.  Please make your gift here – and thank you so much!

To see how your donation will change lives in powerful ways, watch our new video here.

Micah Australia is hosting a series of vigils across Australia in the month of June to pray for justice for our global community, guidance for Australia’s contribution to a world free from poverty, and to call for our nation to be a good neighbour in the community of nations. For more info on where to find a vigil near you – or how to host one, visit http://www.micahaustralia.org/vigils

UnitingWorld is a member of Micah Australia – a coalition of churches and Christian organisations raising a powerful voice for justice and a world free from poverty. Micah is endorsed by over 30 Christian agencies and mission groups as well as church denominations and individuals.