By Gina Olivieri and Jeremy Picone

Recently 120 people gathered at the University of Tasmania to hear about the aid policies and opinions of the seven candidates for the seat of Denison at the Make Poverty History electoral forum. Eight members from RESULTS Hobart attended, and two asked questions of the candidates. Well done to the awesome young people at VGen Tasmania and Oaktree Tasmania for organising the event.

The forum was an eye-opening experience. It was heartening to hear the genuine expressions of interest and passion for ending extreme poverty from a number of candidates, while quite disappointing to hear the out-dated and inaccurate perceptions of aid and development from others.
Unsurprisingly, all candidates seemed to agree that ending extreme poverty was a worthwhile pursuit, and that Australia should contribute its fair share to achieving this goal. Where the candidates differed, of course, was how they felt this could be best achieved.

Suggestions included abandoning international frameworks that were perceived to impinge on our sovereignty, withdrawing support for multilateral organisations to focus solely on bilateral aid, and deferring action on the climate crisis in order to cater to material needs perceived as more immediate.
This was somewhat frustrating to observe, as a greater familiarity with aid and development on the part of these candidates would have informed them these suggestions were not only unlikely to help, but plain unnecessary. As advocates, we are not calling for our aspiring leaders to reinvent the wheel, but to recognise that we already have the wheel. it’s getting us to where we need to go – it just needs more air in the tyre.

Australia has for the past 13 years been a signatory to the Millennium Declaration, and working towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals. Since 1970 Australia has been ostensibly aiming to increase its foreign aid spending to 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI). And Australia has a track record of supporting effective global institutions such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, which has resulted in 29 million mosquito nets being distributed in our region alone, for example.

Australia’s aid spending already has significant and effective measures in place against corruption, a fact that seems to have bypassed some candidates. We do not simply hand over money to foreign governments and hope for the best.

There isn’t actually a great need to come up with a whole lot of new ideas of where and how to spend our aid money. We’re not waiting for a political party to come up with their own MDGs and a local alternative to the Global Fund. We just need to fulfil the promises we have already made. This means reaching 0.7% GNI in aid spending – something the UK will achieve this year.

We need to increase our contribution to the Global Fund to $US 375 million for the period 2014-16; a smart, strategic investment that will save lives and reduce the burden of disease. It is possible that AIDS, TB and Malaria can be eliminated within 15 years if we make a big funding push now.
We need enthusiastic, genuine bipartisan support for the next set of goals that will succeed the Millennium Development Goals in 2015 – the Sustainable Development Goals.

And we need to realise that the challenges of climate change and poverty go hand in hand. The UN Human Development Report for 2013 predicted that 3 billion people will be in extreme poverty by 2050 if we do not act to prevent the catastrophic effects of climate change. Our leaders need to realise that irrespective of their beliefs about why or how the sea levels are rising and weather patterns are changing; their impact on human lives will be devastating, and we need to be planning for this now.

Fortunately, several of the candidates spoke with a deep appreciation of and personal commitment to these issues. It was also a proud moment when the incumbent Andrew Wilkie MP, spoke about the role of RESULTS volunteers in championing the Global Fund, saying RESULTS is an organisation he “has a lot of time for”.

We hope our incoming Government have a lot of time for ending poverty.