‘Great Australian Raid Budget’ as Aid Falls to Lowest Level Ever
9 May 2017 at 10:26 pm
Aid agencies have slammed the 2017 budget as the “great Australian raid budget” after the federal government revealed Australia’s foreign aid funding will be frozen for two years from mid 2018.
The amount spent on aid and development had been expected to increase in line with the consumer price index but the temporary freeze on overseas development assistance means Australia will spend $303 million less on foreign aid during that time.
The move will see the overseas aid budget hit a historic low over the forward estimates of just 0.2 per cent of Gross National Income, the standard test of how generous a nation is with its overseas development assistance.
Campaign for Australian Aid, which represents more than 65 aid and development organisations, church, business and community groups, said the government had “raided” the aid budget for the fourth consecutive year, taking it to “the lowest level ever”.
“This is the great Australian raid budget. It’s a budget that takes from people living in the poorest parts of the world to help fund handouts for wealthy individuals and big corporates,” Campaign for Australian Aid director Tony Milne said.
“Not only has the government reversed last year’s promise of small increases to the aid budget, but they are raiding the aid budget to fund ‘other priorities’ such as their tax cuts for big corporates.
“This is a budget to appease One Nation, not a budget that is about our common humanity.”
Milne said the budget was failing some of the world’s poorest people.
“Millions of people in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria are facing starvation, while millions more are seeking asylum from war in Syria. Yet the government continues to raid Australia’s aid budget, which currently sits at an historic low,” he said.
“Stripping an Australian aid budget that has already been cut to the bone, fails people living in the poorest parts of the world and increases inequality.”
Daniel Flynn, co-founder and MD at Thankyou told Pro Bono News the decision was “disheartening”.
“Right now, we’re facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the end of the second world war, so it’s disheartening that Australia, one of the wealthiest and most multicultural countries has decided to make cuts to foreign aid,” Flynn said.
“We’re a small country, but we bat above our weight in sport, business and entertainment. It’s disappointing that the latest budget decision means we won’t hit the UN’s expectation of 0.7 per cent GNI.”
He said now more than ever Australia needed to be a globally connected country.
“It was reported that less people in Australia are giving to charities, but the ones who are are giving more,” he said.
“As citizens we have the power to fill in the gap where our budget falls short – we can research and give to reputable charities, purchase everyday items from social enterprises that give to reputable charities and use our voice to petition government to support the right causes.”
CEO of the Australian Council for International Development, Marc Purcell, said the government was siphoning off aid money to top-up other government agencies at a time when Australia should “offer a generous hand” to the world.
“The aid budget is bouncing along the bottom and does not add up to a vision of what role we want to play in the world,” Purcell said.
“We have reached a fork in the road where we need to determine what our long-term response will be to growing suffering and vast discrepancies of wealth and opportunity – turn inwards or offer a generous hand?
“As a nation who believes in giving others a fair-go, we think this government should commit to rebuilding the aid budget and rebuild bridges with other nations to tackle the common global challenges we see.”
Save the Children said the current size of the overseas aid budget did not match Australia’s “hard-won reputation” as an egalitarian country.
“While the government is standing by its commitment to increase defence spending to 2 per cent of GDP by 2020-21, its commitment to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable is set to fall further,” Save the Children Australia chief executive Paul Ronalds said.
“In real-terms this means that a total of $150 billion will be spent on defence across the forward estimates at a time when overseas aid spending is savagely slashed.
“Australians are rightly proud of the culture of fairness we have built in our society, but we haven’t matched this to our current overseas aid contribution.”
Ronalds said it was “naive” to think cutting the aid budget would not have an impact on Australians.
“Cutting money to help children in harm’s way, be it through conflict, natural disaster or longer-term exploitation and disadvantage, also makes our region and our planet less secure. We would be naive to think this won’t have implications for Australia,” he said.
“The world is currently facing an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. More people have been displaced from their homes than at any time since World War II, and we could see four famines this year alone in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria.
“All countries with the capacity to do so, including Australia, must step up.”
Ronalds said he welcomed the commitment of increased funding of $132.1 million for humanitarian and emergency response programs including a $30 million increase in the Emergency Fund, but cautioned it was not “new money”.
“It has just been reallocated within the existing portfolio,” he said.
He also welcomed the confirmation that Australia’s annual humanitarian intake would increase to 16,250 places in 2017-18 and then to 18,750 a year as previously flagged by the prime minister, but said he was disappointed a path to a “more generous” refugee resettlement program had not been set, given the record number of globally displaced people.
“While we welcome the confirmation the annual humanitarian intake will rise, the Australian government should be looking to be more creative in resettling those who have been forced to flee violence and persecution,” he said.
“In particular, it could better embrace community and business sponsorship models to boost our annual refugee resettlement program.”
ChildFund Australia said the government’s decision to cut the aid budget was “bitterly disappointing” and failed to recognise that Australian Aid was one of our country’s “most strategic assets”.
“Not only does it improve conditions for the world’s poorest, it serves Australia’s interests by fostering economic growth in the region, creating new markets, building human capital and reducing the risks of conflict and displacement,” ChildFund Australia CEO Nigel Spence said.
“Australian Aid also has a significant role in the war on terror. By reducing poverty, increasing access to education and improving living standards, Australian aid counteracts the environments where violent extremism can take hold and thrive.”
Spence said Australian aid was an embodiment of “soft” diplomacy within foreign policy framework and enhanced national security efforts.
“There is no question – the government must counteract terrorism,” he said.
“But the assumption that the Australian aid program is unimportant to Australia’s foreign policy goals, including overcoming terrorism, is completely misguided.”
He said yet again the aid program had been viewed as “disposable”.
“This is despite the fact that we are living in a period of heightened global uncertainty – a time of worsening conditions for vulnerable children around the globe,” Spence said.
“Diverting aid funds will likely serve to increase threats to our national security and ignores the important contribution that Australian aid makes – not only to families living in poverty, but in building a region in which all Australians can feel safe, secure and protected.”