Opinion pieces

  • Childhood is the forgotten casualty of relentless war

    Published in the Sydney Morning Herald on Friday 1 August 2014*

    By Mohammed El Halabi, World Vision Program Manager in Gaza

    On Thursday July 10 I was watching our local news in Gaza and heard there had been a missile attack which resulted in several deaths in the El Halabi family. Seven of my family members had been killed. In that moment the day’s news instantly shocked me to the core.

    I wanted to be beside my family, only kilometres away, to help them pull out the buried children from under the rubble. But the blind missiles throughout the night made it too dangerous to move around.

    All seven victims in my family were women and children. And it became eight after my injured pregnant cousin lost her baby in an operation to save her life. She was due to give birth this week.

    That night everyone in Gaza was ...

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  • South Sudan anniversary is no cause for celebration

    Published on the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age websites on Wednesday 9 July 2014

    By Tim Costello, World Vision Australia chief executive

    Three years ago there was dancing on the streets of South Sudan as a new nation was born with hopes and dreams for a free and independent future. There was cheering for days after the long battle for secession from the north – even in Melbourne I was able to join in celebrations with South Sudanese living in Australia. Finally there was to be a future of democracy and peace, with plans for rapid development and construction of infrastructure funded by newly found oilfields. More than 1 million South Sudanese, including many who had been living in Australia, returned to their homeland full of hope and expectation.

    But the joyous innocence of new nationhood would be short-lived, with pre-existing political tensions quickly spilling out, the latest and worst ...

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  • Slashing foreign aid reflects poorly on Australia

    Published on The Drum on Wednesday 14 May 2014

    By Tim Costello, World Vision Australia chief executive

    Much is made of the need for a changed 'mindset' in the budget rhetoric. But what if the decisions outlined in this statement of government priorities appear to change a mindset that is beneficial, even admired?

    Funding priorities obviously demonstrate a country's core values, and Australia is rightly proud of its reputation as a 'fair go' society that is free, democratic, and supports those in need. Joe Hockey himself said last night that Australians are a generous people.

    These values don't miraculously cease to apply at our borders. The world is a far more complex and interrelated place than that. Just ask the huge proportion of Australians who were either born overseas or have a parent who was born overseas.

    Consistency in the generosity - and in the excellence and effectiveness - of ...

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  • The lessons still to be learnt from Rwanda

    Published in The Age on Monday 7 April 2014

    By Tim Costello, World Vision Australia chief executive

    The killing was on a terribly efficient scale, much of it accomplished not with bullets but machetes. It was 100 days of frenzied violence and merciless killing that left more than 800,000 Rwandans dead, the world struggling to comprehend, and the international community disastrously slow to act.

    It was in the days before  the internet and the world was slow to learn let alone comprehend the extent of the violence. World Vision staff from Australia and elsewhere were among the first to penetrate Rwanda’s borders in the days  after the genocide started. The stories and images they captured flashed around the world, providing some of the first concrete evidence of the horrific scale and nature of the genocide

    In the year before the genocide began on April 7, 1994, then president, a Hutu ...

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  • It’s our duty to help the lost people of Syria

    Published in the Herald Sun on Tuesday 18 March 2014

    By Tim Costello, World Vision Australia chief executive and Helen Szoke, Oxfam Australia chief executive

    Imagine half the suburbs of Australia deserted; comfortable middle-class houses abandoned or burnt out; neighbours, their pets and cars nowhere to be seen. Think what life would be like if we were no longer able to enjoy our own prosperity, to work, to shop or send our children to school.

    That is the reality Syrians now face in a country that, until conflict erupted three years ago, took for granted such things as electricity, mobile phones, internet, TV, schools and medical care.

    In the three years since, more than 100,000 people have been killed, including 10,000 children.

    Inside Syria, more than nine million people urgently need humanitarian assistance. Out of the millions that have been forced to flee their homes, more than 6.5 million remain ...

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  • Australia's aid charities need clarity over cuts

    Published on The Guardian website on Monday 13 January 2014

    By Tim Costello, World Vision Australia chief executive

    Since announcing their $4.5bn cut to Australia’s aid program, the Federal Government have insisted that it is all about ensuring our aid dollars are effectively deployed in the service of Australia’s best interests. In most cases this appears to boil down to encouraging economic development in our poorest neighbours.

    But predictability of funding is critical to maximising aid effectiveness – effective planning of aid programs and implanting agencies such as NGOs takes time and resources. For this reason predictable, guaranteed funding is always a key component of international aid effectiveness agreements.

    The current uncertainties surrounding exactly where the federal government is going to find its savings within Australia’s aid budget – leaving aside the wisdom of slashing nearly 20% of a programme that constitutes just 1.4% of the federal budget – means ...

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  • The vision to give kids a real future

    Published in the Daily Telegraph on Monday 13 January 2014 and Herald Sun on Tuesday 14 January 2014

    By Tim Costello, World Vision Australia chief executive

    I SPONSOR a number of children through World Vision, one of whom is a 10-year-old girl in Zimbabwe called Tatendra, whom I have sponsored for half her life now.

    Like News Corp columnist Tim Blair, I receive letters and pictures from her once or twice a year that are up on my wall. As I was in Zimbabwe with World Vision in 2010, I had the privilege of visiting her in her community.

    My work for World Vision has meant I have been privileged to meet countless sponsor children and see first-hand improvements in their communities, all of which isn't possible to communicate in a letter or a sketched picture.

    But this personal visit surprised me as, without warning, I was in tears. It ...

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  • We must stay the distance after Typhoon Haiyan

    Published in The Age on Monday 18 November 2013

    By Tim Costello, World Vision Australia chief executive

    Typhoon Haiyan was more than a typhoon. In Tacloban, it was also a tsunami. Collecting so much water as it hurtled towards land, Haiyan formed an eight metre wall of water, smashing the city flat, drowning people even as they sheltered in their homes.

    Typhoons typically cause more injuries than deaths and tsunamis more deaths than injuries. Tacloban, whose city and surrounds until last week was home to more than 1.2 million people, has been struck by a double whammy.

    As I flew into Tacloban on a RAAF Hercules C-130 last week, the scene of sheer destruction made me feel like I was back in Aceh in 2004, when I first witnessed the utter devastation that a tsunami can cause.

    Thankfully the death toll in the Philippines looks set to be far less, ...

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  • Aid decision threatens to put politically expedient choices before improving lives of poor

    Published in the Sydney Morning Herald on Thursday 19 September 2013

    By Tim Costello, World Vision Australia chief executive

    The Abbott government has wasted no time in reshaping Australia's aid program. Within hours of being sworn in on Wednesday, the new government created confusion around the status of AusAID, the independent agency that has managed Australia's aid program with integrity for more than two decades.

    Our aid program is now to be ''integrated'' into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade where, according to the new Prime Minister, aid priorities can be more closely aligned to diplomatic interests. The decision is worrying because rather than the two objectives of aid and diplomacy being complementary, the livelihoods and health of our neighbours are now at risk of being subsumed to other, more short-term and politically expedient agendas.

    Although only two weeks ago the Coalition retreated further on a bipartisan commitment to ...

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  • All we should be saying, is give peace a chance

    Published in The Age on Monday 2 September 2013

    By Tim Costello, World Vision Australia chief executive

    Today Australia steps into one of the most significant roles on the global stage. We do so at a time of grave international turmoil.

    As president of the United Nations Security Council, Australia is now responsible for leading the discussion on the Syrian conflict as support for a US-led military intervention grows. The gravity of this situation cannot be underestimated and our government's task is not to be envied.

    While world leaders weigh up the efficacy of intervening in this two-year conflict, they must not forget the very important mandate the UN Security Council has to protect civilians and build peace.

    As UN officials seek to confirm the reports of recent chemical attacks on civilians, including many children, it is critical that Australia and the 14 other members of the Security Council do ...

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  • Looking for a better life, not just wealth

    Published in the Sun Heral on Sunday 1 September 2013

    By Don Henry, Australian Conservation Foundation chief executive and Tim Costello, World Vision Australia chief executive

    In his inaugural address in 1961, John F. Kennedy famously called on Americans to ''ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country''. The leaders of Australia's major political parties, on the other hand, appear to be appealing directly to our self-interest.

    Nowhere in the debate about debt and deficit, amid the scares about costings and hidden cuts, or even in the frequent question marks raised about the temperament and character of our would-be leaders, is there a sincere pitch to our better selves.

    It would seem the public's best interests, and those of future generations, are no longer part of political conversation in Australia. Instead, we see our leaders assiduously reinforcing our selfish interests at ...

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  • Australia's humanity is the casualty of repugnant asylum politics

    Published on Fairfax websites on Friday 16 August 2013

    By Tim Costello, World Vision Australia chief executive

    The Australian philosopher Peter Singer asks students to consider whether a person wearing new shoes and a suit has a responsibility to wade into a nearby pond, thus ruining their clothes, if they see a child in that pond having difficulty swimming.

    Predictably they respond that the person has a responsibility to save the child and that the cost of the shoes and suit are no reason not to act.

    In other words, you either think that people have inherent dignity and worth, or not. In the eyes of the bystander, that dignity does not depend on whether you have a personal link to the child or not.

    This humanist approach sits comfortably alongside my Christian ethical viewpoint - in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the help afforded a stranger did not depend on cultural or ...

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  • Australia's view on global refugee problem is 'distorted', say Tim Costello

    Published on News.com.au and News Ltd websites on Friday 19 July 2013

    By Tim Costello, World Vision Australia chief executive

    The deaths of yet more asylum seekers off the coast of Christmas Island this week are a troubling reminder of the refugee issue in Australia. Our political leaders are caught in a lose-lose debate on this issue and having just returned from the Middle East, it has never been so clear to me that we must confront our place in this complex global problem with fresh eyes.

    For me, fresh eyes mean looking beyond our shores and experiencing the situation in other countries. Like in Jordan, where last week I met with Syrians who had fled the war in their own country and were living hand to mouth in refugee camps and in Jordanian towns and cities. These are people who have fled for their lives as bombs rained down on their homes. ...

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  • Amid refugee strife, kindness shines through

    Published in Sun Herald on Sunday 30 June 2013

    By Tim Costello, World Vision Australia chief executive

    Last week I sat in a tent in Lebanon with a Syrian refugee couple who had escaped with their five children. Tameer and Delal fled with only the clothes they were wearing after three of their neighbours - including a cousin - were killed outside their Damascus home by an aerial bombing campaign. Once they reached the Lebanese border, the family walked for more than a day before finding help through World Vision in the Bekaa Valley.

    Tameer and Delal’s children cannot access Lebanese schools due to overcrowding, and when I met them, five months after their escape, the kids were desperately bored. Each of them told me their greatest wish was to go to school.

    I asked Tameer if he had hope, because this seems to be profoundly important for many refugees. ...

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  • The budget axe must not fall on vital foreign aid

    Published in Sydney Morning Herald online May 13, 2013

    By Tim Costello, World Vision Australia chief executive and Dr Helen Szoke, Oxfam Australia chief executive

    In the lead-up to federal budget day, advocates representing a wide variety of interests are coming out of the woodwork to plead their cause. No one wants their industry or sector to be affected by what now seems like inevitable cuts to government spending. But most of these campaigners are lobbying for their own patch.

    Compare that to the thousands of young Australians who have been working tirelessly over several months to raise awareness of overseas aid. These young volunteers are not lobbying the government out of self-interest. They believe in our aid program because it's affordable and because it works.

    In fact, our overseas aid program delivers a truly stunning level of human benefit per dollar spent. For the humble offering of $4.50 per ...

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  • PNG needs some of our Anzac spirit

    Published in Fairfax online (Sydney Morning Herald, The Age & WA Today) on April 23, 2013

    By Tim Costello, World Vision Australia chief executive

    As we approach Anzac Day, Australians are prompted to reflect on our national character. Drawing on events far from our shores close to a century ago, we lay claim to a particular combination of traits: mateship, pulling together, and brave sacrifice.

    Anzac Day should also prompt us to look at those actions closer to home that help define us as good mates, ready to pull together for a common cause. I'm talking about the importance of our relationship with Papua New Guinea – Australia's closest neighbour.

    Our countries have enduring ties due to proximity, people, and history – and that includes shared experiences in theatres of war, like Kokoda.

    The genuine warmth of the relationship is evidenced by the assistance our diggers received from ordinary Papua ...

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  • It's amazing what aid programs have achieved

    Published in the The Australian on April 6, 2013

    By Tim Costello, World Vision Australia chief executive

    Is foreign aid effective? The authors of two pieces in last Saturday's Inquirer would argue that it isn't. But it all depends upon what you are expecting.

    If you expect aid to kick-start economies and result in continuous economic growth then you might be disappointed. But if you see healthy, well fed and educated children where previously there was illness, death and lack of opportunity, you will have a very different view.

    It is understandable that people want aid to generate economic development - after all it is essential to self-sustaining poverty reduction in any poor country. However this is not the only purpose of aid, nor its main target.

    The evidence is inconclusive about aid's ability to generate economic growth. There are no simple paths to development - it is a complex process shaped ...

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  • Committing to ending early marriage

    Published on the The Australian website on March 6, 2013

    By Tim Costello, World Vision Australia chief executive

    In 21st century Australia, most of us have the luxury of choosing the timing of significant life events.

    And that choice has led to some interesting social trends. From the age we start having kids to the process of ageing we are increasingly seeking to delay those landmark moments.

    So can you imagine the distress of having real-life responsibilities thrust upon you well before you are ready?

    That's the reality for the 13.5 million girls around the world who this year will marry 'early' that is, before their 18th birthday and in some cases as early as 11 or 12. Their childhood comes to an abrupt and sometimes brutal end, and the responsibility of keeping house and raising children of their own takes the place of playing with their friends, education and dreaming big.

    The ...

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  • Fair go a fallacy as self-interest trumps real need

    Published in the Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax online on February 9, 2013

    By Tim Costello, World Vision Australia chief executive

    Ever since the Prime Minister called the election, I’ve had three words repeating in my head. Fair - By - Instinct. That’s how the PM described our nation and it’s an assessment I think most Australians would agree with. Fairness is the cornerstone of our constitution and our national identity. But as we head into an election year, I think we need to ask ourselves whether we really believe in a fair go for all.

    A leaked Coalition discussion paper which floats the idea of diverting overseas aid money to build a medical centre in far north Queensland is just the latest development in a series of alarming developments in the aid sector. It’s a trend that’s seeing our political leaders play with the definition of aid and it deeply ...

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  • Take a stand for the country we want to live in

    Tim Costello

    World Vision Australia chief executive

    ++ Published by the Herald Sun newspaper on December 24, 2012

    For many Australians, 2012 has been a year of mixed blessings. The two-speed economy and international uncertainty have created challenges.  The rising cost of living lingers in our minds, even keeps some of us awake at night. Our Federal Parliament has become toxic with genuine debate stifled by political interests. 

    And yet despite all this, we are so fortunate. This year, Australia dodged the worst of the financial woes affecting other countries. In fact, our way of life is now the envy of the world. Just a few weeks ago, Australia was ranked the second best place on Earth to be born. We have won the lottery of life, so why does it sometimes feel like we’re waiting for bad news to strike?

    Christmas is above all a time to re-kindle our ...

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World Vision Australia’s opinion pieces reflect our policy and ideas on issues surrounding global poverty.