Australia: the least generous we have ever been

Image: Campaign for Australian Aid

By Leila Stennett, Campaigns Director RESULTS Australia

As you’ve probably heard, the Treasurer went ahead with the scheduled cuts to Australian aid in last night’s budget. Here at RESULTS we are deeply disappointed that our government – at a time when it says the Australian economy is doing relatively well – is not willing to maintain an effective and fair aid program.

The further $224 million cut in 2016-17 reduces Australia’s aid to just 0.23% of gross national income, which is the least generous we’ve ever been. That’s a 30 percent cut to Australian aid in just 3 years.

It seems to me that if the government can give high income earners and companies tax cuts, it has the capacity to at least maintain the annual aid budget at the current year’s level of $4 billion.
And it also sends the wrong message about Australia’s commitment to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

The latest aid cuts will mean that country aid programs are just maintained at the reduced level of 2015-16. Global health programs, however, have taking the brunt of reductions in 2016-17 being cut this year by 16 percent.

Aid health funding has already dropped significantly across many countries. Even very poor countries such as Myanmar have had to cope with a 40% reduction in aid following the last budget.

Families in Australia understand the benefits of good nutrition for their kids, including better overall health, good school attendance and improved prospects for employment. But after these aid cuts, Australia’s opportunity to help improve nutrition among our neighbours is compromised. Vulnerable families in food deficient parts of our region, such as in East Timor, will not receive effectively targeted assistance from Australia. DFAT’s priorities, such as effectively targeting the immediate causes of child malnutrition, will not be adequately addressed.

Lower aid funding also decreases Australia’s ability to respond to health threats, including tuberculosis (TB) and virus based outbreaks such as Ebola. It endangers our capacity to respond to global initiatives, eradication of the devastating disease of polio. We are so very close, with the number of cases having declined to only 74 in 2015, and only 11 in 2016 so far.

Reducing the ability of Australia to help neighbouring countries respond to new infectious disease outbreaks will also increase the threat to Australian citizens.

Cuts to the Australian aid budget do not just mean lower spending on programs that reduce poverty, improve education and health outcomes, and strengthen societies. They also:

  • diminish Australia’s standing and leadership in the region;
  • reduce our ability to have a voice in important regional and international forums;
  • demonstrate globally our lack of commitment to international challenges, relative to other more budget constrained OECD countries.

This budget outcome is a tough blow for advocates. Many of us have been working with our Members of Parliament to maintain Australian aid at 0.25% of GNI, or at $4.25 billion, in 2016-17.

But it’s even tougher for the recipients of Australian aid. Aid is not about numbers. It’s about people. Life will be much tougher now for the many children who rely on Australian support for basic education, nutrition and immunisation for the best start in life.

And as advocates we need to continue to make our voices heard. Now more than ever.

If you, like me, feel like you need to get your disappointment off your chest, I urge you to join me in taking action right away:

  • Write a letter to the editor  to a newspaper near you, expressing your feelings about the cuts to the aid budget. The budget is sure to be a hot topic, so now is a perfect time to write a letter and have your views heard.
  • Call your MP and Senators in your state, telling them that you don’t support these cuts and ask them what their position on aid is.
  • Tweet;
    • Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop – @JulieBishopMP  letting her know your disappointment. (Don’t forget to include a sad face emoji … )
    • Treasurer, Scott Morrison – @ScottMorrisonMP , asking him why he didn’t listen…
    • Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs + International Development, Tanya Plibersek – @tanya_plibersek – asking her when and with how much Labor will increase Australian aid…
  • Book your ticket to our 30th Anniversary Conference in Sydney 28-29 May! Here you will learn to be an even more awesome advocate.

Though we need to allow ourselves to be sad, disappointed and angry, this is not a time to loose hope. And though we should allow ourselves to grieve (for a short while), we will also, soon, re-mobilise and come back stronger.

Shortly, as we near the Federal election expected in July, RESULTS advocates will call on candidates from all parties to affirm their commitment to effective aid and development.

This is our opportunity to ensure our leaders are willing to work towards eliminating extreme poverty, improving health, access to education and economic opportunities for the world’s poorest.

Keep watching this space for more information on this soon…

P.S. I really hope you have registered for our National Conference… It’s going to be a celebration of all that RESULTS Australia has achieved over 30 years. We will also have some of the world’s best advocacy experts there, including RESULTS founder Sam Daley-Harris, to help us developing the skills and knowledge to enable us to meet the challenge to rebuild our aid and introduce other policy changes to achieve global goals.

Click here to find out more and book your ticket here…

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