Close Search
Opinion  |  Social IssuesForeign Aid

Budget throws a line to neighbours, falls short on global development commitments

26 October 2022 at 7:59 am
Simon Lewis
Labor’s "wellbeing budget" throws the line back out to our regional neighbours, but falls short of respectable global development commitments.

Simon Lewis | 26 October 2022 at 7:59 am


Budget throws a line to neighbours, falls short on global development commitments
26 October 2022 at 7:59 am

Labor’s “wellbeing budget” throws the line back out to our regional neighbours, but falls short of respectable global development commitments.

The recent budget has brought us welcome news on development policy after a 31 per cent cut to aid over a decade.

After a decade of political introspection which saw the gradual erosion in our annual aid commitments to historic lows of 0.2 per cent of gross national income (GNI), foreign aid is considered a “winner”, but the reality is there’s a lot of repair work to be done.

Labor’s election commitments include the following;

  • $2 billion boost in aid and grants for the Pacific and South-East Asia
  • 80 per cent gender requirement, especially for larger projects over $3m
  • Folding the temporary CV19 support to our regional partners formally into the overseas development assistance (ODA) budget, which were otherwise set to expire
  • Reinstating the central disability fund to $12.9 million

Our total spend on development assistance is $4.65 billion in the current year, which we are told is still at the 0.20 per cent GNI level. In inflation adjusted terms, ODA is still down over 25 per cent from 2014-15 levels, a cut far greater than any major government program. And even more surprising, as a share of GNI it is at less than half the levels of the 60’s and 70’s.

While it looks like development policy is primed for a reset, and while we welcome the stepped-up regional commitments which make eminent sense in the context of the prevailing defence and diplomatic threats that crept into the vacuum of our inaction, it looks like it will be a long crawl back to Labor’s longer-term commitments of 0.5 per cent of GNI; this is a respectable ODA commitment, in line with our OECD peers.

It is both an ethical and political imperative for Australia. As we cherish our position as the wealthiest community in the world on a per capita basis, and with over half Australia comprising first or second-generation migrants based on the 2021 census that hail from regions far beyond the Pacific, now is not the time to keep our backs turned on their acute needs.

Australia has systematically withdrawn its support for regions in Africa and the Indian Sub-Continent. There are famines, floods and indescribable suffering in these regions.  Sub-Saharan Africa now accounts for 60 per cent of global poverty, which was exacerbated by COVID-19.

The budget is also silent on the climate emergency that effects the majority world most perversely, while the polluters of the minority world sit on their hands.

Where Australia choses to invest its foreign aid, beyond the numbers, is also key. The $65 million investment in a chancellery for Australian diplomats in the Solomon Islands for example, rather than investing that money in health, education or environmental programs, shows a disconnect that has galled Pacific leaders.

Foreign aid and development are ironically the areas of foreign policy where Australia should enjoy a comparative advantage, especially when it comes to issues of human or labour rights, but without providing assistance is playing with one hand tied behind its back and creating a foreign policy vacuum.

The government may not be able to right the enormous imbalance on foreign aid this budget, but it should look to redress it over the next decade, not just because it’s the right and ethical thing to do, because it saves lives, but also because it’s in our own interests to do so.

Taking the Solomon Islands example, with an extra $50 million we can pay the wages of 100 teachers or 50 doctors for the next 30 years in the Solomon Islands. Or provide critical infrastructure like schools and medical centres.

Politically, an investment in wider aid and development program would be a boon to civil society groups in our region and beyond and to strengthening relationships with political leaders when relationships are becoming critical to Australia’s standing and position in the world.

Simon Lewis  |  @ProBonoNews

Simon Lewis is chair of the Australian International Development Network and founding partner at GoodWolf Partners.

Tags : Budget22,


Get more stories like this



Australian NGOs enabling disability-inclusive disaster prep in Pacific

Danielle Kutchel

Thursday, 9th March 2023 at 10:12 am

Increase to Australia’s Pacific aid

Danielle Kutchel

Monday, 24th October 2022 at 12:37 pm

Trachoma eliminated in Vanuatu

Samantha Freestone

Monday, 15th August 2022 at 12:06 pm

pba inverse logo
Subscribe Twitter Facebook