Last Monday evening I attended a Make Poverty History Electoral Forum for the Sydney electorate. These forums are a fantastic way of giving your local members an opportunity to share their personal and their party’s views on issues such as the alleviation of poverty and climate change. They provide the public with an opportunity of engaging with these members, sharing their opinions and getting validation on what can often be a pretty touchy topic!
The Sydney Forum was attended by the current member, Tanya Plibersek of the Labor Party and Tony Hickey, member for the Greens in the Sydney electorate. Whilst I don’t personally live in this electorate, I study at UTS in Sydney, so it was great to hear perspectives on our journey to eradicating poverty. The event was chaired by Amritha Thiyagarajan from Oaktree and Cara Bevington from Oxfam also shared her thoughts about the road to go until we achieve this much needed goal!
The theme for the Make Poverty History campaign this year is ‘Every Minute Counts’, highlighted as Cara shared, “Every minute demonstrates how much further Australia needs to travel, yet as each minute brings us a devastating reality, each minute also brings us hope.” It’s crazy to think that within each day we are blessed with 1440 minutes – take a moment to think about how you’re using each of those minutes…are you making them count?
Ms Plibersek spoke after Cara, and I was particularly encouraged by her commitment to focusing on maternal health. As the Minister for the Status of Women, this issue should be one of her key commitments, and I hope that both her, and the Australian government fulfil a promise to raise the bar with our achievement of MDG 5! Of her address to us, a few comments were particularly notable: “What happens if you don’t measure your success is that good will dissipates. If we don’t measure our failures, we won’t pick ourselves up…We need to make sure that areas such as maternal and child health improve.” Movements such as the recent Road Trip to Canberra endeavour to pressure the government to take a look at our progress in reaching the MDG targets, and as suggested, to move forward we must measure our failures first. Writing to your federal MP is a fantastic way of encouraging them to consider our progress we’ve made and the huge journey we have ahead of us! Ms Plibersek also acknowledged this distance before us, “We have an enormous way to go, yet with the full commitment of the international community these goals are 100 percent achieveable.” Let’s encourage Australia to be the leader in achieving these goals (and that’s not going to happy with a 0.5% commitment either!)
Unfortunately no Liberal spokesperson was able to attend the Forum, so we next heard from the member for Greens, Tony Hickey. Mr Hickey expressed the Greens absolute support of our movement, particularly focusing on MDG 7 – Environmental Sustainability. Whilst his comments about commitment to reducing the effects of Climate Change through solar and wind energy provided food for thought, I was most encouraged when he agreed that “Australia should be pushing for more than 0.5% of our Gross National Income, by the time we reach that, all the other countries will be giving 0.6%. Let’s aim for 0.7% as an absolute minimum!” Again, this target won’t be reached without pressure from people like you! You can sign the Act to End Poverty (see Campaigns page) or again as mentioned earlier, write a personal letter to your federal MP sharing why you’re passionate about increasing our aid budget. Whilst negative media coverage of this issue can be disheartening, I’m encouraged by remembering that nothing will happen if we don’t say anything either! So why not write to an MP today?
After both speakers finished we were given an opportunity to ask questions of the Labor and Green’s policies regarding aid and their opinions about issues which are far from being solved. Whilst their answers suggested that Australia is moving positively towards reaching the MDGs, we have a long road ahead of us and the fight is far from over!
The Make Poverty History Coalition hope to hold forums in all electorates before the election, and I’d encourage you to get behind one that is already planned in your area, or even organise one yourself! I plan to organise one for my Berowra electorate when I come back from Ghana in August, so there will be many blogs ahead about holding an electoral forum. For now, visit Make Poverty History’s guide to holding a forum. There’s everything from a how-to guide, task list, invite letter, suggested questions to ask party candidates and media suggestions. You can also visit Micah Challenge’s map of planned forums – there may be one happening in your area that you can attend! As always, I’d love to hear from you if you attend/organise a forum so shoot me an email or a comment!