It might seem surprising that in a time when Australia has signed on to pursuing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that the Department of foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) would offer “Friendship Grants” that risk encouraging dependence rather than self-reliance; until you consider their stronger inclination, indeed unhealthy urgency, to do whatever it takes to compete with China for our neighbours affection.
“Sharing” our resources in this way may turn out not to be too different to handing over trinkets to the first Australians to take control of their land; because of course we would develop it better. We do it from a position of control and a desire to maintain control. We not only choose who comes here, but also choose what we share with those not lucky enough, like us, to live on top of valuable resources.
By luck of birth, a convenient belief in nation states, and with the assistance of ‘great and powerful friends’, we happen to control a fair slice of the world’s resources. We can offer a bit here and there, and hopefully get a good name for ourselves. However, I don’t believe we’re fooling anybody. What we’re actually heard to be saying is:
“You can have a few things, but you can’t be treated as equal to Australians. We’ve worked hard to get ourselves qualified (and we have) and work hard at our jobs (and we do), so only we have the right to decisions about development that endanger the world’s climate and threaten your existence. If we give you some basics to keep you from starving, or suffering too much, you’ll listen to us when we say how dangerous China is when they give you stuff.”
This thinking, much of which some in our Government are happy to do aloud, implies that people who have less only need to work hard to get what we have. At Palms we might appear to believe that sharing our skills and knowledge will remove the barriers. Both can help, but for most, with neither the luck of our birth, nor an invitation to participate in “our” democracy, where decisions are made about resource use, (Think Adani) the circumstances change very little.
Of course it’s lucky for us so very few can participate in exploiting the world’s resources as we do. The demand would see the environment collapse even more quickly. Perhaps for a time our charity hides the damage from both ourselves and those denied participation in decisions about our collective future, but how well? I suspect most recipients hear us saying:
“Here’s another 40 x $60,000 worth of stuff that we don’t have the imagination or faith to believe you have the ingenuity to develop from local resources.”
Peter (1:18) tells us that we are “not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from the futile way of life inherited from your forefathers”. Neither are we redeemed by giving such. Rather than being willing to feel the glow of our meagre generosity, is it not healthier to engage communities in decisions about global resource use. Many engaging us overseas have a sharply focused perspective on the threat of global warming and are some of the wisest users of resources I have met.
Advocacy is Palms missing Mission
If Palms is to develop new capacity, rather than applying for a grant that requires us to develop the capacity to distribute goods appropriately, which others do already, we should be developing our capacity to implement our mission to “Advance the awareness, enthusiasm and involvement of Australian and international communities in shared action to achieve just, sustainable, and peaceful development.”
So rather than encourage the stuff of dependence, we can improve our capacity to nurture advocacy skills that give our partners access to the world’s corridors of power; skills that challenge structural disadvantage. As Paulo Freire submits it is pointless nurturing vocational, or any other skills and knowledge, if at the same time there is no capacity developed that provides access to positively influence the use of resources.
I’m not sure Palms will win a Friendship Grant for developing advocacy skills. I suspect the powers that be will not see grants that challenge their control as the best way of reducing poverty. Time may be better spent collaborating with the Edmund Rice Centre and similar who provide a great example of working with local communities in advocacy. This will be more effective in achieving Palms mission.