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Charities Warn Aid Cuts Are Diminishing Australia’s Regional Influence

11 April 2018 at 1:55 pm
Luke Michael
Aid charities have warned that continuing cuts to Australia’s aid budget are diminishing the nation’s influence in the Pacific region, after it emerged Australia has fallen in the global aid rankings for the third year in a row.

Luke Michael | 11 April 2018 at 1:55 pm


Charities Warn Aid Cuts Are Diminishing Australia’s Regional Influence
11 April 2018 at 1:55 pm

Aid charities have warned that continuing cuts to Australia’s aid budget are diminishing the nation’s influence in the Pacific region, after it emerged Australia has fallen in the global aid rankings for the third year in a row.

The Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) revealed on Monday that Australia ranked 19 out of the 29 wealthy OECD nations that gave international aid in 2017.

Australia’s foreign aid contribution has dropped from equalling 0.33 per cent of gross national income (GNI) in 2012-13, to 0.23 per cent of GNI last year.

As a result, in the last three years Australia’s global aid ranking in the OECD has fallen from 16th to 17th to 19th.

Save the Children Australia CEO Paul Ronalds told Pro Bono News that the federal government’s declining aid budget reflected badly on Australia.

“This is very disappointing news but not unexpected. When you continue to raid the foreign aid budget to plug other holes in the budget this is the inevitable consequence,” Ronalds said.

“It does reflect badly on us. I think most Australians like to think of themselves and our country as generous. But what these statistics show is that we are far less generous than we used to be and we’re certainly far less generous than other countries that we like to compare ourselves to.

“For example the United Kingdom is now three times more generous than Australia in its giving of foreign aid. And we don’t usually like to be beaten by England in anything. And this is certainly one thing that we shouldn’t be beaten by them in.”

Ronalds said aid cuts not only negatively affected charities like Save the Children, but also Australia’s regional influence.

“These cuts have a huge impact on us and it flows right through to our programs on the ground. When foreign aid is cut we have less funds to do the lifesaving work that we’re doing throughout the region,” he said.

“But it’s not just the impact on our program work. I mean obviously giving aid is the right thing to do and it’s important from a moral and ethical perspective, but what’s also concerning here is the impact that this is having on Australia’s national interest.

“Aid is a key way for Australia to have influence in our region. And this week we’ve seen reports of China’s growing influence in the Pacific and that is a part of them increasing their aid budget in places that we would traditionally see as close allies of Australia.”

Ronalds said contributing foreign aid offered Australia significant influence with other countries.

“So when we want to be able to promote Australia’s trade and economic interests, these governments are far more likely to listen to us, so it’s good for our economy,” he said.

“It’s also good for our health system. Many people don’t think about just how significant the health risks are in our region. We have drug resistant tuberculosis in Papua New Guinea, which at its closest point is only about four kilometres from the Queensland coast.

“It is really important from our own health security perspective that we’re investing in the PNG health system to make sure that that drug resistant TB doesn’t cross some very narrow seas and get into to north Queensland.

“So all of these benefits flow through to Australia and we lose them when we are cutting our foreign aid budget.”

Marc Purcell, CEO of the Australian Council for International Development, also said foreign aid cuts were damaging Australia’s influence in the Pacific region.

“What we are seeing is the effects of the long-term decline in our soft power. A few days ago, defence experts stated publicly that aid cuts were diminishing Australia’s influence in the region and today we are seeing a clear-cut example of our neglect,” Purcell said.

“The government’s Foreign Policy White Paper sets out the opportunity to build peace and security in our region through a strong and consistent aid program, but we are facing further aid cuts.

“If the government believes in its own mantra that the aid program should be used to serve our national interest, when will the government deliver on it? The news of Chinese military expansion in the Pacific should be a wake-up call.”

Purcell added that good aid built “stronger, closer and longer-term connections, benefiting diplomatic relations”.

“As set out in the White Paper, aid is one important strand in Australia’s engagement with the Indo-Pacific, but we are not prepared to grasp this opportunity. We are on a downward trajectory to new aid lows which should be urgently reversed,” he said.

“After over 30 per cent of cuts to the aid budget in recent years, we are increasingly seen as an unreliable development partner and a fair-weather friend. This happened when we withdrew from assistance in Africa and it will happen again.

“We are 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.”

Oxfam Australia chief executive Dr Helen Szoke noted that foreign aid cuts had come at a time when the government seemed “hell bent” on delivering company tax cuts.

“We’re looking at the shocking possibility of our government robbing the poor to pay the rich,” Szoke said.

“Overseas aid is a success story. Aid paid for a global vaccination campaign that virtually eradicated polio, and the mass distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets in sub-Saharan Africa, which halved the mortality rate from malaria and saved the lives of millions of children.

“Aid should be a priority for any government that is committed to building a safe and secure world free from poverty and inequality.”

Ronalds called on the government to ensure there were no further foreign aid budget cuts, while also recognising that investing in aid was a good investment for the Australian taxpayer.

“It makes our region more stable, it makes us more secure as a country and of course it’s the right thing to do. So the Australian government should not be thinking about cutting aid, they should be thinking about investing more in aid,” he said.

“So the Australian government absolutely needs to increase its aid budget more in line with the wealth that Australia has enjoyed now for many decades.”

This latest ranking drop comes after the OECD recently reviewed Australia’s aid program and warned that the nation’s foreign aid contribution could drop to an all-time low of 0.22 per cent of GNI in 2017/18.

Reports have also emerged that the Turnbull government is considering a $400 million cut to Australia’s aid contribution in the upcoming federal budget.

World Vision Australia chief advocate Tim Costello said it was extremely concerning that the government “may soon hand down further cuts to the aid budget at a time when we should be doing more not less”.

He called for the nation’s aid budget to be restored to 0.33 per cent of GNI over the next six years.

“It’s saddening that we aren’t on track to meet our international commitment but it’s not as if there isn’t hope,” Costello said.

“Australian people are among the most generous in the world. Last year saw Australia rank sixth in the Charities Aid Foundation’s World Giving Index but our aid budget currently doesn’t reflect that level of generosity.

“The Australian government can and does have the choice to turn this around and restore our reputation as a country that cares.”

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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