You’d be forgiven for some confusion after yesterday’s foreign aid budget announcement. Online advocates for the poor were clearly unimpressed, but Foreign Minister Bob Carr seemed quite pleased to talk about an increase to aid. So what’s the problem?
The increase the government has been talking about is good news. However in the bigger picture it amounts to another broken promise – one that affects the world’s most vulnerable people. It’s one that will cost lives.
Behind the announcement was another delay to a once-bipartisan promise to ensure the aid budget reached 0.5 percent of our Gross National Income by 2015. This follows a similar delay last year which saw aid funding cut by $2.9 billion over four years. These two delays mean the goal has been pushed back to 2017/2018.
Budgets in Australia seem tight, and there are savings being found everywhere. However other countries, like the UK, who are struggling far more than us in the current global climate, have already reached 0.5 percent and have committed to increase to 0.7 percent.
The other issue is the continuation of the practice of diverting aid to cover domestic asylum seeker costs. Up to $375 million of the planned $500 million aid increase could be diverted to meeting these costs.
That makes Australia effectively the third largest recipient of our own aid. While there is debate about whether these costs fit within the official definition of aid, the fact is, Australians expect aid to go to alleviating poverty overseas, not domestic priorities like onshore processing of asylum seekers.
This is a broken promise to the world’s poor. It’s also a broken promise to the Australian people. There is widespread support for aid and many see it as our responsibility to our neighbours and an investment in the future.
International aid has an incredible impact. Just last year Australian aid helped one million children enroll in school; 2.5 million people access safe water; and 230,000 women give birth with the support of a skilled birth attendant. These are things we take for granted, but they are life-changing – even life-saving – to those helped by aid.
In the last 20 years, the number of children and mothers who die each year has halved, but this is still too high and the need for aid is still great. Each day, 19,000 children and 800 pregnant women die needlessly. Aid has and can continue to make a measurable impact and save lives.
Many Australians are rightly troubled by the impacts that tonight’s budget will have on the lives of some of the world’s most vulnerable people. These vulnerable people don’t have a voice in these decisions, but you do.
Join us in letting our leaders know that our aid promise is not something that can be ignored.
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2. Sign The Movement to End Poverty petition
Andrew Johnson works in Government Relations at World Vision Australia.
What are your thoughts on the Government’s aid budget decision?