Australians are generous and giving people.
Whether it's sponsoring a friend or neighbour to complete a worthy challenge, hearing the call when there's a global disaster or regularly giving to their favoured organisation, Australians will generally put their hand in their pocket.
In fact, according to the latest statistics from the 2014 Australian Charities Report, Australians gave $6.8 billion in donations and bequests to charities in 2014. The average tax-deductible donation claimed by Australian taxpayers in 2012-13 was just over $500.
I've seen the generosity of Australians first hand. Way back when Fred and I first set up The Fred Hollows Foundation in the early 1990s and Fred was asking people to give him a fiver to help save someone's sight, he'd have people in the street stuffing $5 in his shirt pockets. This continues today, both through more sophisticated website donations to wonderful little old ladies who hand me $20 for The Foundation when I'm in the supermarket. We simply couldn't do what we do without the overwhelming and heartfelt support of everyday Aussies.
So when I hear reports that Australians think we should cut foreign aid, I'm genuinely surprised. It contradicts what I've always known.
But perhaps the answer lies in a survey released this week by The Campaign for Australian Aid which asked Australians how much of the Federal Budget was spent on Australian Aid. Most people thought the amount was over 13 percent and that this should be cut to about 10 percent of the budget. Even before the cuts to aid, Australia spent just 1.2 percent of the budget. The reality now is that only 0.9 percent of the Federal Budget goes to aid.
If people were given a better picture of how much we spend on aid, and how that money is spent, then I think generous Australians might actually argue for a modest increase in how much we spend on aid. In today's federal budget, another $224 million is scheduled to be cut from aid. Over 10 years, more than $11 billion will be cut, making Australia the least generous we've ever been.
I'm not arguing we put aid up to anything like 10 percent of the budget. There are so many competing priorities for government funding. But Australia is a wealthy country born on the value of giving others a hand and I think most people still support that.
Many of the people Australian charities help live in some of the world's poorest countries. We recently restored sight to a little girl in Kenya, Nabiretha, whose family of six struggle to survive on about $AU2.60 a day. They wanted to get her the badly needed cataract surgery, but couldn't afford the bus fare to the hospital, much less the operation to restore her sight.
Both the donations of generous Australians and funding from the Australian Government through our aid budget make surgery for children like her possible. Aid helps us train the doctors, nurses and health workers and for other charities it helps them deliver services like building schools.
And it's a good advertisement for Australia. I can't count how many hospitals and clinics I've visited where there is an "Australian Aid" sign with the bright red kangaroo logo.
We think it's time to stop the clock on the cuts.