It's easy to become cynical about politics because our leaders too often say one thing and do another. There is nothing more dispiriting in a democracy than a broken promise. It feeds apathy and mistrust.
Politicians don't need to be told this. They understand that every time they break a promise, they hurt themselves and make it harder to win the next election. So why do they do it?
Well, a promise in politics is hard to keep because it means change to the way things are done. There is always a powerful lobby against change, and to defend the status quo. There is never a shortage of reasons against doing something.
That's why we should take a break from cynicism to congratulate leaders when they actually stand true to their word. We should recognize, as Ronald Reagan's speechwriter Peggy Noonan once wrote, that "part of courage is simple consistency".
To that extent, the Australian federal government deserves plaudits for simple consistency. Despite many political and budgetary pressures, Treasurer Wayne Swan has announced an increase to overseas development and aid funding that keeps Australia on course to meet its commitments under the Millennium Development Goals. By increasing the ODA budget by AUD$500 million in the coming 2011/12 financial year, Australia's ODA funding represents 0.35% of the gross national income, on target to reach 0.5 % by 2015.
'0.5 by 2015' is a longstanding commitment supported by both major political parties, but the MDGs were set in place before the global financial crisis scrambled the world economy and brought about new fiscal pressures in Australia and elsewhere. As we see in the US budget fight, there are plenty of politicians who regard aid and development spending as an irresistible target for cutting. It is easy pickings for the simple reason that the people that directly benefit from ODA spending -- school kids in Indonesia, say, or pregnant women in Papua New Guinea -- don't get to vote, let alone donate to political campaigns. No form of government spending is as vulnerable to harsh political realities as overseas development and aid.
GPP has a productive dialogue with political leaders across the spectrum in Australia. We constantly remind them that Australia has the sixth highest income per person in the world and our level of government debt is by far the lowest of any major developed country. We point out that -- even after this announced increase -- countries like UK, much harder hit by the Global Financial Crisis, give more aid than Australia does. We can still do a lot better.
But today, if only for a minute, we should give credit where it's due. In the fight against extreme poverty, the Australian Government is proving itself to be a reliable partner.