[caption id="attachment_7935" align="alignright" width="280" caption="Kevin Rudd defends Australia's aid program"][/caption]

Our political discourse is dominated by the economy and the pressure politicians feel to ensure Australians always have a rising living standard.

It is often a selfish agenda driven by our consumerist and materialistic culture.

That’s why it was refreshing to attend an event at Parliament House yesterday that focussed on the very small part Australia plays in the overwhelming job of trying to alleviate the suffering of 1.4 billion people who suffer degrading poverty daily.

Australia’s overseas aid program - now at $4.8 billion - often comes under criticism as being too generous, wasted by corruption, better spent at home or feathering the nests of high-paid aid advisers.

These are valid concerns and they need to be constantly addressed to ensure public support does not melt away.

With the Government and the Opposition both pledging to raise overseas aid to 0.5 per cent of Gross National Income - ie $8 billion per year – by 2015, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd last year commissioned an independent review of the effectiveness of Australia’s aid program.

Headed by former Sydney Olympics chief Sandy Hollway, the panel gave our program a tick but made 38 recommendations with Mr Rudd immediately pledging to implement 37.

Yesterday’s release of the panel’s report and the Government’s response was attended by a who’s who of the aid community including World Vision CEO Tim Costello.

Non-government organisations will benefit from the recommendations with the Government recognising the efficiency of delivering aid through them, as opposed to relying solely on government programs.

Mr Rudd gave a passionate defence of our aid program and thanked the Opposition’s spokeswoman Julie Bishop, also in attendance, for the Coalition’s bipartisan support which he rightly said was critical.

There’s no doubt Mr Rudd’s commitment to the poor is heartfelt. He said over and over that the measure of success for our aid program was making a difference on the ground for those suffering “the degradation of poverty”.

The government would, reduce “unreasonable remuneration” for aid advisers, phase out bi-lateral aid to India and China, maintain zero tolerance for fraud (just 21 cents in every $1000 is lost to fraud, according to Mr Rudd) and ensure that 75 per cent of our aid would go to the Asia Pacific region where two thirds of the world’s poor live on Australia’s door step.

With just 0.35pc of our GNI allocated to overseas aid, Australia’s giving ranked in the bottom third of OECD countries.

ACL supports the Millennium Development Goals and like other Christian organisations championing them is disappointed we won’t meet our country’s promise to increase aid to 0.7pc of GNI by 2015.

Our further disappointment that the AusAid guidelines have been changed so some of our aid money can now fund abortions should not diminish our support for the rest of the program as we continue to advocate for a policy reversal on abortion. (If we were serious about maternal health, we would be putting this money into to clean birthing facilities for poverty-stricken women, not the false choice that abortion equals a maternal health outcome).

It’s great to see bi-partisan support for our aid program. But this will only hold as we all continue to show our politicians that we want Australia to be even more generous to the poor.

For a more detailed analysis, read Micah Challenge National Coordinator John Becket’s comments about the aid review.