Labor Pledge to Reverse Foreign Aid Budget
22 May 2016 at 8:57 am
A federal Labor pledge to reverse the Turnbull government’s $224m cut to the international aid and development budget has drawn support from Australian humanitarian relief and development groups.
The Campaign for Australian Aid (CAA), made up of more than 60 aid and development organisations, also called on all political parties to commit to repairing the aid budget.
Campaign director for CAA Tony Milne said the pledge had the potential to bring an end to three consecutive years of cuts that had seen a third of funding slashed from the aid budget.
“The announcement to restore the most recent aid cut of $224 million committed by the Australian Labor Party is an important first step towards repairing the Australian aid budget to a fairer level,” Milne said.
“And we call on the Coalition government to match it.”
Last week the foreign aid and development sector launched its “fight back” campaign for the federal election, using emotionally evocative and cutting-edge tactics favoured by the major political parties.
CAA said it would employ door knocking, fence signs and phone booths to garner support.
Tony Milne told Pro Bono Australia News at the time that the campaign style was new territory for foreign aid organisations, but a necessary step after the latest round of budget cuts reduced Australia’s foreign aid spend to its lowest ever level.
The shadow minister for foreign affairs Tanya Plibersek said in an election announcement that Labor would also invest an extra $40 million a year, from 2017/18, to help Australian NGOs deliver frontline services to some of the world’s poorest people.
The chief executive of World Vision, Tim Costello, challenged the Coalition to match the pledge to restore the most recent aid cut, saying it was time to return to a bipartisan policy.
“We need to think of these cuts not in terms of dollars but in terms of the impact they have on real lives,” Costello said.
“Every time we cut, it is the opportunity for education we cut, the wellbeing of children and teenagers in the world’s most vulnerable communities we cut; this is actually what is being trashed.”
Oxfam Australia chief executive Dr Helen Szoke said Australian aid had such a dramatic impact on people’s lives, yet it is less than 1 per cent of federal spending and a tiny proportion of the budget.
“It’s time for Australia to join with other global nations and start doing our fair share,” she said.
CEO of Save the Children Australia, Paul Ronalds, said: “Helping our neighbours is not only intrinsic to our Australian values, it is critical to our national interest, and it should rise above partisan politics. A thriving aid program helps reduce instability while guarding against outbreaks of disease and promoting economic growth in our region. It’s not only good for our neighbours, it’s good for us.”
Labor’s funding pledge was also welcomed by the Australian Council for International Development CEO Marc Purcell.
“Last year’s federal budget axed $1 billion from the aid program. The 2016/17 budget has cut another $224 million taking Australia’s generosity to an all-time low. All up, in the past three years there’s been a 30 per cent reduction in Australian assistance to the world’s poorest people,” Purcell said.
“Cuts to Australia’s aid program have ended more than 100 highly effective poverty reduction programs in scores of countries and damaged our reputation with our neighbours. Cutting regional health and biosecurity aid programs has increased Australia’s vulnerability to pandemics like TB, Zika and Avian bird flu and risked our exposure to agricultural threats like rabies and foot and mouth disease.”
“We want all parties to commit to rebuilding the aid budget to $5.5 billion in the next term of Parliament to set Australia on a trajectory to reach 0.7 per cent of GNI by 2030 – in line with Australia’s commitment to end extreme poverty, gender inequality and tackle climate change under the Sustainable Development Goals.”