On Rickshaws and Change: the Dobell Electoral Forum

On a quiet Wednesday evening, the sight of a lavishly decorated rickshaw pulling into a residential street caused a bit of a stir. The Bangladeshi rickshaw – and its crew from Symbiosis International – was in the Central Coast electorate of Dobell for the Make Poverty History electoral forum.

The forum was held to give the community a chance to ask their candidates some tough questions about international poverty and climate change, and to demonstrate to the candidates that the community supports action on these issues. Scott Rickard (Greens) and Craig Thompson (ALP) spoke very candidly and demonstrated a genuine commitment to international development. Unfortunately, Liberal Party candidate John McNamara did not respond to our invitation to speak at the event.

Hanging near the speakers was a giant banner calling on the candidates to help make the Millennium Development Goals a reality. Filled with names and signatures of members of the electorate, it reached all the way from the ceiling down to the floor. One of the candidates commented that if we are to make real progress, we need all this support and much more, because politicians will continue to find it difficult to commit to the 0.7% target until a groundswell of public support forces them to do so.

And this is exactly what the Make Poverty History Coalition is trying to do: build a grassroots movement capable of generating, mobilising and expressing public support for giving 0.7% of our GNI in overseas aid. Of course, in a world where 17 children die of easily preventable diseases every minute, change is painfully slow. But every email to an MP, every article in the media, and every forum is a step in the right direction.

At the Dobell forum, a few more people learnt about the issues, a few more people were inspired to get involved in the campaign, and a few more politicians were reminded of the urgent need to act on international poverty and climate change. And with these forums happening across the country, together with thousands of other Make Poverty History events around the world, slowly but surely we are building a grassroots movement capable of forcing real change.

By Oxfam Intern Giselle Hall