EDITORIAL WEDNESDAY 03.11.10.
The announcement by Prime Minister Julia Gillard of a commitment to spend $500 million on building 2000 schools should have been greeted with a chorus of approval. Unfortunately, the schools are to be built in Indonesia and so the chorus was singing a different song, with widespread public criticism of the plan. Why spend so much money on fixing another country’s schools when so many of our own schools are in desperate need of better resources, repairs and maintenance? Not to mention our public hospitals and our public housing? Surely, the argument goes, charity should begin at home, and only when we can completely provide for our own needs should we seek to provide for others.
Unfortunately, this argument misses a few very important points. First, foreign aid is an investment, not a gift. The money that we spend assisting other countries in our region helps to foster stability and improves our national security. It helps to facilitate trade agreements providing Australian businesses with greater opportunities. And in many cases money spent on foreign aid is actually spent on Australian contractors delivering the assistance. But in the case of the Indonesian schools there is another even more important bonus. Investing in the education of Indonesian children helps to fill a vacuum which is often otherwise filled by radical fundamentalist schools such as the one run by Abu Bakar Bashir where many of the Bali bombers received their indoctrination.
That’s an investment which is worth making.