Our parliamentarians agree that the nation must live within its means but disagree on how to get there.
The predictable political brawl over tonight’s budget should be seen in this light.
With a budget deficit of $40 billion expected to be handed down, it is clear that debt must be tackled so it does not get out of control.
Australia is fiscally behind the eight-ball because of the stimulus money handed out during the global financial crisis and the cooling of the mining boom.
The Senate’s unwillingness to pass much of last year’s budget savings, the collapse of the iron ore price and the electorate’s high expectations mean balancing our nation’s books is now much harder.
Dysfunctional domestic politics, global markets and our selfish attachment to materialism could conspire to put the nation in deep trouble.
Tonight’s budget will be launched into these triple headwinds.
An easy place to find savings has been overseas aid.
However, a tweet from an Australian Associated Press (AAP) journalist Jennifer Rajca said: “Julie Bishop tells joint party room there will be no new cuts in foreign aid tonight’s budget”.
If this is confirmed tonight, it will be the first budget in years in which aid has not been deferred or cut.
Australia’s Millennium Development Goal promise, agreed by Labor and Liberal, to increase aid to 0.7 per cent of our gross national income by 2015 is a million miles from being achieved.
Many Christians, including ACL, enthusiastically support the MDGs. A poverty-specific Christian lobby group called Micah Challenge brought hundreds of Christian young people to Canberra each year to urge politicians to keep their promise.
Despite this both parties squibbed on the 0.7pc promise, revising it to 0.5pc by 2015.
But even with this lower figure, our lobbying meant little as first Labor in government deferred the promised aid increases and then the new Coalition government cut and capped and then cut again.
After tonight’s budget, our aid will remain capped at $5 billion per year and will be around 0.22pc of GNI come 2016-17.
According to Stephen Howes, the director of development policy at the Australian National University, our aid will be the lowest ever in comparison to the size of our economy
Is this the mark of a nation seeking to conduct its affairs according to the Christian principles of generosity and love of neighbour?
Some Christians say to me that aid is wasted so the cuts don’t matter. It is undoubtedly true that some is wasted.
However, this is not an argument to break our promise to pull our weight in the battle against global poverty. Fixing waste where it exists, not breaking our promise to increase aid, is the solution.
Even the UK, whose economy is in a far worse state than Australia’s, has met its MDG target of 0.7pc of GNI.
For several years ACL’s pre and post budget media releases have focussed the cuts/deferrals both sides of politics have made to aid.
Neither Labor nor Liberal has a monopoly on virtue when it comes to our aid policy.
What is sad is that apart from Christian groups and a few non-government organisations (NGOs), almost no one in the Australian voting population cares that we cut our aid.
There is so little outcry that governments know it is a soft touch for easy budget savings.
Thanks to Julie Bishop’s advocacy, it looks like the cuts might have stopped.
I’m glad that for the first time in years, our budget night media release is unlikely to be criticising another aid cut.