With tax cuts, race and personality politics shaping up as this year's key election issues, the vital issue of poverty - both global and domestic - has slipped far into the background when it should be high on the political agenda.

New Zealand has committed itself to doing its part in alleviating poverty throughout the world, but is nowhere near meeting its obligation.

At the United Nations Millennium Development Summit in 2000, all nations agreed to put an effort into halving extreme poverty by 2015.

This can be done.

As Nelson Mandela has reminded us: "Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings."

Government policies are crucial.

All UN members, including New Zealand, have agreed to play their part to meet poverty reduction targets. In particular, increased aid is vital to enable the poorest countries to educate their children, provide clean water and basic healthcare, and to build the infrastructure to feed people and trade with others.

Well-targeted aid is a hand-up not a handout.

New Zealand and other countries promised to contribute 0.7 per cent of gross national income (GNI) to aid by the target year of 2015. We now give only 0.27 per cent, slightly more than one-third of the target.

We are one of only six countries in the United Nations that have not put in place a plan to meet the target by 2015.

It is time for a cross-party commitment to meet our international obligations.

Despite public opinion surveys that show strong public support for more overseas aid, both Labour and National have so far failed to set a timetable to achieve the UN target.

It has been up to some of the smaller parties - notably United Future, the Greens and Progressions - to show leadership. They have undertaken to meet the UN target and meet our responsibilities as a good global citizen.

The important thing is for us to realise that we need to act urgently, not only to be charitable, but also in our common interests.

We live in a shrinking world where disasters - both natural and man-made - are felt around the globe.

It is shortsighted to think overseas poverty will not affect us.

The MakePovertyHistory campaign, a coalition of 50 New Zealand organisations, is calling on the next government to increase spending on aid and to support fairer policies towards the poor.

It is a small price to pay when compared with the tragedy that sees a child die from poverty-related causes every three seconds.

As a nation, we can make a difference.

It's time for our politicians to move beyond personality politics, and commit themselves to help create a fairer and safer world.

* Barry Coates is chairman of MakePovertyHistory Aotearoa.