Government Urged to Reject ‘Utterly Shameful’ Aid Budget Cuts
29 March 2018 at 5:45 pm
Australian aid charities have called on the federal government to rule out further cuts to international aid, after reports emerged the Turnbull government was considering a $400 million cut to the aid budget.
Fairfax Media reported on Thursday that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was “modelling” ways to cut 10 per cent from Australia’s aid budget.
The Turnbull government has remained tight-lipped on the issue, with Finance Minister Mathias Cormann refusing to comment on the Fairfax report on Thursday, while International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells told Senate Question Time on Wednesday to “stay tuned” for the budget when asked about possible aid cuts.
Aid charities have expressed dismay at these reports, and called on the federal government to reject any plans to further cut the aid budget.
Australian Council for International Development CEO, Marc Purcell, said a lack of clarity from the government was an “extremely alarming sign”.
“We need reassurances from the prime minister that the aid budget won’t be raided again on top of the 30 per cent cuts we have seen since 2013,” Purcell said.
“Let’s be clear, this is not about fiscal austerity, it’s a choice. Government spending has increased by over 10 per cent since 2013 and Australia has seen 26 consecutive years of economic growth.
“We are failing the poorest people and not doing justice to who we are as a compassionate nation and what we have to offer the world – our people, our expertise and our position as a prosperous country who can offer a helping hand.”
World Vision Australia CEO Claire Rogers noted that any further cuts would be a mistake given the OECD Development Assistance Committee’s recent review called on Australia to reverse the trend of declining aid budgets.
“The review has encouraged Australia to find a way to reverse this trend. We are at risk of losing influence in global debates,” Rogers said.
“Half of the 65 million people displaced from their homes are children. This is the largest displacement crisis on record. Countries like ours should be giving more to the world’s vulnerable, not less.
“We know it empowers people to build better lives for themselves. Reducing our aid commitment now is short-term thinking.”
Susanne Legena, the CEO of Plan International Australia, said any aid budget cuts would be “utterly shameful”.
“Any further cuts to the Australian aid budget would be a devastating slap in the face for children around the world,” Legena said.
“The foreign aid budget is not an ATM; the government can’t just keep making withdrawals to pay for other shortfalls.
“The prospect of spending billions on corporate tax cuts while cutting a vital lifeline to the world’s poorest is utterly shameful. Are we really a country that robs from the poor to give to the rich?”
Save the Children’s director of public affairs and policy Mat Tinkler, added that further aid cuts would damage Australia’s international reputation.
“Australia is a wealthy recession free country and we can afford to play our part helping the poorest people in the world through a world class aid program. If we don’t then we risk damaging our reputation globally and undermining international efforts to create a stable and prosperous world,” Tinkler said.
“We urgently need to scale up aid but instead Australia has slashed overseas aid to developing countries by 30 per cent in the last three years.”
Tinkler drew attention to Australia’s Foreign Policy White Paper, which acknowledged how important overseas aid was to achieving Australia’s foreign policy aims.
“We praised the paper when it was published in November 2017. But how can the Australian government tackle poverty and inequality, thus promoting stability and prosperity in our region when it won’t match its own rhetoric by protecting Australia’s financial contribution to the world’s poor?,” he said.
“Instead, the government appears to be planning to raid the aid budget as a way to make budget savings or to help pay for tax breaks. That diminishes our global influence and creates an opportunity for other nations likes China to extend their reach in our region.”
The Labor Party attacked the Turnbull government for its lack of commitment to Australia’s aid budget.
In a joint statement, Labor Senators Penny Wong and Claire Moore said Australia’s aid cuts were an “international embarrassment”.
“The Turnbull government’s cuts to development assistance are already a source of international embarrassment for Australia, and are at odds with the generous spirit of the Australian people,” they said.
“In February… a Shorten Labor government [committed] to rebuilding Australia’s international development assistance program and increasing aid investment beyond current levels.
“A Shorten Labor government will contribute more to international development assistance than the current government. And we will ensure more of it gets to the people who it is meant to be assisting.”