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PM Gillard on Australia’s foreign aid

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On a cold, dark, wet July morning in Perth, I had the opportunity to attend a breakfast at the Hyatt Hotel where our new Prime Minister gave the keynote speech. This was Julia Gillard’s 15th day as Prime Minister and her first speaking trip to Western Australia as PM.

She arrived fashionably late, oozing with confidence to a presidential applause from WA’s top miners, business people, politicians and fellow activists like myself (looking slightly uncomfortable in our suits).

My suit got particularly uncomfortable when a waitress spilt scrambled eggs on me. But fate played a kind hand, because the she later held the roving microphone, and as a way of compensation chose me as one of the people out of the throng to ask a question to the PM.

When it finally came around to my turn, I introduced myself and asked the PM:

Every day a billion people go to bed hungry, every hour 40 women and girls die in pregnancy or childbirth, every minute 20 children under the age of five die from a lack of clean water, food or medication. Australia can and should do more to halve these figures.

Prime Minister, Where do you stand in terms of providing 0.7% of gross national Income in overseas aid to meet the millennium development goals agreed by the United Nations to halve global poverty by 2015?

What is stopping Australia from reaching this internationally recognised figure of 0.7% which is supported by 4 out of 5 Australians?

Would you commit to moving towards 0.7% figure after reaching 0.5% target in 2015?

The Prime Minister’s answer:

Global poverty is an important issue which your own Stephen Smith from WA, Minister for Foreign Affairs has been working on very hard. I believe we are making great inroads into achieving the millennium development goals.

We have increased aid significantly and we will continue to do so with further plans to increase funding for aid and development. We’ve chartered a course to meet the millennium development goals and we are determined to do just that.

After the event, I had a chance to speak with Julia Gillard as she moved through the crowd chatting to people:

PC: Hello my name is Paddy Cullen; from Oxfam Australia (we shake hands).
JG: That was a terrific question. Global poverty is such an important issue.
PC: But we still don’t have an answer to the 0.7% question.
JG: I know, I know. I didn’t give you an answer -it’s vitally important too. Do you know Stephen Smith (who was standing nearby but talking to someone else).
PC: Yes I know him. The Oxfam office is in his electorate. He’s our Federal representative.
JG: Stephen will be able to give you all the details.
PC: Well it was great to meet you – something of an Obama-esque moment. It’s terrific to have a woman Prime Minister and I wish you all the best in the election.
JG: Thankyou very much (moves on)

I turned to talk to the Minister for Foreign Affairs but was beaten to him by a media scrum who were keen to quiz him on the likelihood of Kevin Rudd possibly taking his position.

I felt very honoured and lucky to meet Julia Gillard and raise the issue of foreign aid, but her answer, however gracious, lacked detail and she still remains something of an unknown quantity in terms of her commitment to aid and poverty.