News: Volunteers continue humbly in “big business” of overseas aid

MEDIA RELEASE 18 Feb 2010

Volunteers continue humbly, avoiding “big business” approach to International Aid.

While senior executives and project managers in the aid industry receive up to $433,000 per year (“Aid workers earning more than Rudd”, The Australian, 18 Feb 2010), hundreds of hard-working and expert Australian volunteers humbly work for as little as 1% of these sums.

For 49 years, Palms Australia has sent Australians as volunteers to work in the Pacific, Asia, Africa, South America and Indigenous communities in Australia.

In that time, at a total cost of less than $10 million, Palms Australia has sent over 1400 volunteers to 39 countries, providing over $160 million in expertise to developing communities.

These volunteers make an arguably greater contribution as they work side-by-side with local staff, sharing practical, relevant and empowering skills, rather than expecting the comforts of home. The average Palms Australia Global Volunteer lives a simple life, surviving on less than 10% of the average Australian wage.

Despite the disparity between the amounts earned, Palms Australia supports the federal government’s plans to increase the foreign aid budget to 0.5%, hoping that in time it can reach the global Millennium Project target of 0.7%.

There is no doubt that aid money can be spent well or spent poorly, but individual cases of highly-paid project managers are neither evidence that aid money is wasted, nor that it is excessive.

It is too easy to make excuses for Australia not to meet its responsibilities as a wealthy nation.

Senator Barnaby Joyce’s recent comments are a case in point. What is important is to ensure aid money is used effectively rather than simply to expand existing programs and encourage exorbitant salaries in the aid sector.

Instead, the government should maintain its commitment to increase the aid budget by increasing the percentage of the aid budget given through not-for-profit organisations.

Many of these organisations, including Palms Australia, rely predominantly on the donations of individual Australians, and are as a result greatly affected by situations such as the global financial crisis.

Organisations such as Palms Australia make a much more tangible difference in the lives of people, developing local capacity rather than simply providing depreciating infrastructure.

Furthermore, through the generosity of Palms’ volunteers, donated time of members and staff willing to forego large salaries they could receive in other fields, these agencies operate can provide incredible value for the government’s aid dollar.

Contact: Brendan Joyce, Assistant Director, (02) 9518 9551.

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