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Oxfam Foreign Affairs and Aid Election Debate 2011

The Global Challenges Ahead: Oxfam Foreign Affairs and Aid Election Debate 2011

By Oxfam Communications Editor, Charlotte Fowler.

With many major changes to New Zealand aid budget management in recent years, it’s perhaps unsurprising that a fairly sizeable and well-informed crowd gathered at Oxfam’s Wellington election debate on foreign affairs and aid this week, chaired by Oxfam New Zealand’s Executive Director Barry Coates.

A disappointing no-show notification from National’s John Hayes the day before left it to rival parties to helm the debate. Kennedy Graham attended on behalf of the Greens, Maryan Street for Labour and Kaapua Smith for the Maori Party.

Television remote-like electronic ‘clickers’ allowed the overwhelmingly Labour and Green-backing audience to rate the speakers and policies at various points in the debate. Labour had strong support going in, but its lead was toppled by the end of the night with the Green’s policy popularity growing to take more than 50 per cent of the audience preference.

The debate covered a range of core ‘bread and butter’ issues for foreign affairs and aid: what importance each party will give to global challenges that threaten to reverse progress in poverty reduction; each party’s commitment to reaching the UN target for aid spending of 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income; how to ensure aid spending is focused on the needs of the poor; the role of Non-Governmental Organisations; how to balance the tension between promoting the country’s commercial interests through trade and supporting human development and human rights.

Facing up to global challenges

Graham was the first to respond on the importance each party will give to the global challenges, such as financial instability, climate change, rising food prices and widening inequality, that threaten to reverse progress in poverty reduction.

He emphasised facing up to these global challenges is the basic premise of the Green Party. “The underlying challenge we face is the relationship between population growth and the carrying capacity of our planet. The solution needs to be a just distribution of resources; a new compassionate, green economy.”

Street outlined the need for greater activism, for global alliances and global solutions to tackle these issues. She said the Labour Party is committed to strengthening multilateralism and building international consensus as a means to tackle these global issues.

Smith spoke about the Maori Party concept of the Rourou Economy – developing a sustainable economy based on the principles of sharing and caring She highlighted the key issue of food security and sharing of our resources, quoting the beautiful Maori proverb: “Nā tō rourou, nā taku rourou ka ora ai te iwi: With your food basket and my food basket, the people will thrive.”

Aid spending

The Green Party was the only party ready to make a real commitment to reaching the 0.7 per cent UN target for aid spending – which they will do by 2015, according to Graham.

Whilst the Labour Party has no timetable, as yet, to reach the target, Street made it clear she believes we aren’t spending enough on aid at present and that increasing aid remains a key goal in Labour’s manifesto.

The Maori Party has no timetable for reaching 0.7 per cent target. However, Smith made the point that New Zealanders have been ranked one of the most generous in the world in terms of how much money we donate to charity, and so government aid ought to reflect this level of support. She suggested we need to look beyond financial aid towards other sustainable models of support, such as knowledge sharing and supporting refugees.

Working with Non-Governmental Organisations

Things started to get a little personal when we moved onto the third main question. How would each of the parties ensure aid money is spent effectively and focused on the needs of the poor, and how will they work with NGOs?

Both Labour and Greens were quick to make clear they would make it a priority to return to having the aid portfolio separate from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Both parties would re-focus aid on poverty-reduction, as opposed to National’s singular focus on economic development Street pointed out that countries need a healthy, educated workforce if economic development is to happen at all.

Street was the most vocal in attacking National’s current approach, talking about the need to “rescue” the relationship with NGOs, and rebuild morale at MFAT, reversing the damage caused by “Murray McCully’s very personal, philosophical belief that everything about the private sector is good, and everything about the public and NGO sector is bad.”

Both Labour and Greens talked about collaboration and partnership with the NGO sector, with Graham adding the Greens would initiate dialogue with the NGO sector to establish its capacity to handle an increase in aid spending.

Trade vs Aid

Both Labour and Greens agreed there is a clear tension between trade goals and aid goals, and they would certainly manage this differently to the current National policy, which both believe places too much focus on trade.

Street coaxed a laugh from the audience noting “you could be forgiven for thinking we currently have two Ministers for Trade,” adding that, for National “foreign affairs is trade”. She said Labour believes New Zealand should continue with the tradition of independence in foreign policy, while being concerned with establishing peace and security, focusing on poverty elimination, improving health and education, and ensuring gender justice.

Smith outlined the Maori Party commitment to building stable communities and moving towards a rights-based model of development based on respect for different cultures and respect for indigenous knowledge.

Graham said the Green Party believes trade rules need to be fair and aid should enhance the economic and social rights of the recipient country. Trade goals should certainly not override aid goals.

Final tally

The final clicker-vote from the audience put the Greens ahead while National lost quite a bit of ground – not easy to defend your ground if you don’t show up.

http://www.oxfam.org.nz – Blog.

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