I gave a brief speech today in Parliament on Australia’s aid program, and particularly its funding for education in Indonesia.
Schooling in Indonesia, 9 February 2011
In the late-1970s, I attended primary school in Banda Aceh. I was there because my father was working on an AusAID project to improve education in Indonesia. At the same time, Indonesian education was improving me. As the only white child in my class, I came to appreciate perspectives and cultures quite different from my own. The power of stories and songs, an understanding of geography and history – these things stay with me still.
For Indonesia, as for Australia, education is the best anti-poverty tool we’ve developed. A wealth of evidence now shows that education raises wages and increases participation in the democratic process. Better educated citizens are healthier, and their children receive many of these benefits too.
Yet while Australia has for decades been a partner in improving the Indonesian education system, that bipartisan consensus now threatens to crack. Fuelled by some of the most reactionary groups in Australia, a campaign has been afoot to say that when floods hit Australia, we should stop assisting others. This kind of inward-looking approach will directly harm thousands of Indonesian children. But it will also harm our national interest, which is in engagement, not autarky.
Our nation is not so poor – in finances or national spirit – that we must choose between rebuilding the damage done by the floods and being a good neighbour.