Friday, November 17, 2006

G20 meeting in Melbourne

Today the news is full of the G20 meeting in Melbourne. This is one of the big events on the annual calendar of international political meetings. It brings together finance ministers and central bank governors from the world's 19 richest countries, plus the European Union.

This group keeps an eye on issues relating to international financial stability that go beyond the responsibilities of any one organization. World poverty and climate change are topical issues for this meeting.

The core underlying belief of most participants in this forum is that globalisation and free trade are the best way to combat world poverty.

The importance of trade in lifting poverty is widely held. Kofi Annan has said, "Personally I do not believe that the poor are victims of globalisation. Their problem is not that they are included in the global market but that, in most cases, they are excluded from it".

Economists attribute the recent prosperity of East Asian countries to the economic development delivered by their ‘tiger economies’. This Asian prosperity is so marked that Ross Gittins, Sydney Morning Herald economist, refers to the Africanisation of poverty.

When extreme poverty affects every continent, the problem seems massive. Somehow when there is only one continent as the focus, i.e. Africa, the problem seems more solvable. Suddenly, the impossible can become probable. Like the fall of the Berlin Wall, world poverty really could end in my lifetime.


There is a whole counter-culture that sees free trade as part of the problem, not part of the solution to world poverty.

Make Poverty History, a coalition of development, social justice and faith-based groups, calls for more aid, debt relief and fair trade for developing nations, and regards these three principles as key to alleviating global poverty.

I need to read Jeffrey Sachs in more depth. He documents a combination of elements that work together to alleviate poverty. I think he points to a mix of trade, health, education and governance. Better health and education can’t wait for an economy to develop; instead they need to be supported by aid from First World countries.

The UK seems to be taking a lead role in encouraging First World countries to pay attention to the whole mix. A Blair Government representative for this weekend's G20 meeting, Stephen Timms, has come out in strong support of the Make Poverty History campaign. He is deputy to Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, and has praised the momentum that Make Poverty History began last year when the G8 summit committed to increase aid by $US50 million and double the amount of aid to Africa by 2010.

Stephen Timms was the only G20 representative to attend the Make Poverty History forum that was held in conjunction with the G20 meeting. Our Howard government seems determined to be a follower, not a leader, in this respect as in so many others.

A report released as part of the Make Poverty History campaign, involving 60 Australian aid agencies, community groups and church groups, shows that all G20 countries, apart from Australia, have increased their overseas aid allocation since 2000. Australia is the least generous contributor to overseas aid among the G20 countries.

Having a government with blinkered views makes it doubly important for individual Australians to be aware of the issues and to support worthwhile projects.

With education as one of the keystones of poverty alleviation, the School of St Jude gives me a clear way to help lift one of the world’s poorest countries out of poverty.

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