Australia has a lot for which it can be proud.
We have produced leaders in business, academia and sport. We were one of the first nations to give women the vote as well as the right to be elected to parliament. Australia also broke new ground by introducing a minimum wage that was “fair and reasonable”.
As a nation we revel in The Lucky Country tag. It was penned by Donald Horne back in 1964, and was meant to be an indictment of the country. Other nations were clever - we were lucky. Our achievements, our “luck” and our sense of “a fair ago” are the bedrock of our nation’s psyche. We believe ourselves to be fair, egalitarian and generous.
Yet behind the Aussie fair-go ethic is a nagging question: just how generous are we? And: how do we compare with other nations in our giving?
Well, now we can answer this because the figures are out. A new report released in the United Kingdom by the Charities Aid Foundation has reviewed and compared the giving of individuals who live in the world’s wealthiest countries.
On overall private giving to those in need, at home and overseas, Australians come in fourth after United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Private giving by Australians reached 0.69 per cent of our GDP. (This compared to 1.67 per cent for the US, 0.73 per cent for the UK and Canada at 0.72 per cent.)
But we know from other studies that Australia rises even higher when its level of private giving to overseas aid is compared. Australians rank only second to the Irish when it comes to giving to the one billion people on the planet who live in extreme poverty.
I believe Australians understand that while we are an island nation we cannot ignore the fact we are global citizens. Australians understand that we cannot win a war on terrorism unless we wage a war against poverty. Too often the slums of the world’s poorest countries can become the recruiting grounds for terrorists and their ideology of hate. Too often parents in these communities are robbed of hope that their children can get educated or even get adequate healthcare.
But while Australia has much to be proud of in terms of our private giving the level our government gives to overseas aid compares poorly. Australia currently ranks 19 out of 22 rich nations for the amount of aid our government gives as a proportion of gross national income (GNI). Between 1996-97 and 2006-2007, the government gave $4.5 billion less to aid than they would have if they maintained the same levels as when they came to power.
Almost 30 years ago world leaders agreed that if the world’s richest nations gave 1 per cent of the gross national income we could end extreme poverty.
It was believed that 0.3 per cent should come from private individuals and businesses. Privately Australians are giving generously, particularly those on the $40,000 to $50,000 per annum incomes. I do fear that the contribution of business and the mega rich, however, has failed to match the generosity of everyday Australians.
It was envisioned that the remaining 0.7 per cent should come from the governments of wealthy countries. Since 1969 most governments have repeatedly promised to give 0.7 per cent of GNI in overseas aid - including our own.
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