‘It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul’: NGOs dismayed by aid budget raid
14 August 2019 at 5:50 pm
Australian humanitarian groups are frustrated by the Morrison government’s plan to redirect $500 million from the nation’s shrinking aid budget towards a climate change funding package for the Pacific region.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on Tuesday the government would provide half a billion dollars over five years to help Pacific nations invest in renewable energy and climate and disaster resilience.
The government said the money will fund projects keeping children safer in their school buildings, and ensure households can have cheaper and more reliable renewable energy.
“The Pacific is our home, which we share as a family of nations. We’re here to work with our Pacific partners to confront the potential challenges they face in the years ahead,” Morrison said.
But humanitarian groups are dismayed that the funding will be taken from the nation’s existing aid budget – which has been cut six years in a row and is the least generous it has ever been.
The government is also taking $140 million from the aid budget to help encourage private sector investments in low emissions, climate-resilient solutions for the Pacific and Southeast Asia.
While Save the Children welcomed the PM’s commitment to support Pacific nations in the fight against climate change, the charity warned that funding should not come at the expense of life-saving aid programs.
Kavitha Suthanthiraraj, Save the Children’s pacific policy and advocacy advisor, said the redirection of aid funds was “highly concerning”.
“It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul, which only does a disservice to those vulnerable children and families who desperately need Australian aid,” Suthanthiraraj said.
“What’s more, it comes with no guarantees that the funding will directly benefit vulnerable children and families – which is the entire reason for foreign aid.”
Suthanthiraraj said the announcement could have a major impact on Australia’s ability to deliver vital aid programs in areas such as the Pacific where violence against children was at endemic levels.
“The rate of children suffering violence in the Pacific is staggering, yet programs to address the crisis are desperately underfunded, even though we know they are making a huge difference,” Suthanthiraraj said.
“As long as the government continues to pick away at the edges of the already dwindling aid budget, it will become harder and harder to fund programs and help stamp out the scourge of violence against children.”
Oxfam Australia also expressed concern that the money for the package was drawn from the nation’s “heavily diminished” aid budget.
The charity’s climate change advisor, Dr Simon Bradshaw, added that Australia’s failure to tackle the climate crisis risked undermining any short-term benefits the funding may yield.
“While greater certainty on Australia’s future funding for climate change adaptation in the region is welcome, it is not a substitute for action at home to tackle the causes of this crisis – the burning of fossil fuels,” Bradshaw said.
Morrison said Australia was doing its part to cut global emissions and would halve emissions per person and reduce the emissions intensity of the nation’s economy by two-thirds by 2030.
But The Australia Institute pointed out the government planned to use Kyoto credits to meet emissions targets – which means past reductions would be counted – allowing for pollution to be kept at essentially the same level.