Gareth Evans


Australians can and should help those in need abroad as well as at home, former Foreign Affairs Minister Gareth Evans told a forum at BMW Edge in Melbourne’s Federation Square on 30 August.

The forum, organised by One Just World in conjunction with the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, addressed the subject ‘Does Charity Begin at Home?’ and featured, together with Mr Evans, The Age journalist Jo Chandler and Fijian feminist and political activist Sharon Bhagwan Rolls as speakers.

Responding to the notion that we should focus on helping those in need within our own borders, Mr Evans, Foreign Affairs Minister in the Hawke and Keating governments, said that Australia is capable of providing aid at home and abroad.

“We’re a rich enough country to do both of these things, and do them generously and do them well.”
He said that it wouldn’t be hard to convince the electorate of the importance of increasing foreign aid if it was made clear that it is just a small part of the budget.

“In the context of aid, this is not really a very hard sell with the Australian community, particularly if you can get across the message that the proportion we are spending on aid of our national income and our national budget is really quite small.”

“People always think that aid is costing something like 9 or 10 per cent of the budget, but it doesn’t, its much less that,” Mr Evans said.

He said he believed there is “an instinctive reservoir of natural generosity” amongst Australians.
“I think people are generous when they believe that what they are giving is going to have an effect, and they understand the nature of the problem their gift is supposed to address,” he said.

Ms Chandler said people affected by disaster in developing countries are more vulnerable than those in Australia, because there are no support systems like the ones in place here.

“If you are displaced from your village in the Papua New Guinea highlands and end up in the settlements of Port Moresby, and you’re a child perhaps who has lost a parent to HIV, there is nothing to look after you, and no one to look after you beyond whatever charities happen to find their way onto the streets,” she said.
She said she thought there was “enormous interest” in aid and development in Australia.

“I think sometimes news editors and chiefs of staffs perhaps underestimate how much people want to hear these stories.”

She said “compassion fatigue” could be avoided if the media was more inventive in the way it covered famine and disaster in developing countries.

“I don’t think that we are necessarily fatigued if we are presented with the information in new, vibrant, deep, connected ways - and the onus is on us [journalists] to bring out the humanity of the stories.”


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