Australian Election Outcome – Challenges and Opportunities

by Mark Rice, RESULTS Global Health Advocacy Manager

 
Election Results generally

The Federal Election has resulted in the Liberal–National Coalition winning a decisive majority in the House of Representatives (with the Coalition likely to hold 90 seats, Labor 55 seats and independent and minor party candidates 5 seats). In the Senate, no party has achieved an outright majority, and Labor and the Greens Senators will make up less than half of the Senate once newly-elected and re-elected Senators start their term next July.  From mid 2014, a range of independent and minor party Senators will have the balance of power, and are unlikely to support consistently either of the major parties in Senate votes.

New Decision-makers

The members of the Ministry that poverty campaigners are most likely to aim to influence are (left to right in the photos):

– Prime Minister – Tony Abbott MP (NSW);

– Minister for Foreign Affairs – Julie Bishop MP (WA);
– Treasurer – Joe Hockey MP (NSW);
– Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs – Senator Brett Mason (QLD);
– Assistant Treasurer – Senator Arthur Sinodinos (NSW) 

 

The importance of influencing the Treasurer and Assistant Treasurer are:

    • RESULTS and other campaigners make an annual Budget submission to the Treasury, proposing priorities for the aid program for the coming years.

 

  • The Treasurer represents Australia on the governing board of the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, and the Treasurer or Assistant Treasurer attend regular meetings of these organisations. 

 

 


Aid Policy – Known amount and unknown impacts

Just before the election, the Coalition released its Foreign Affairs Policy and final set of spending and savings measures.  The Foreign Affairs Policy provides the following limited details on the Coalition’s aid policy:

    • Continued support for Australia’s aid eventually reaching 0.5% of gross national income (GNI).

 

  • In the period to 2016-17, a freeze in aid in real terms (with aid being adjusted only to offset price increases).

 

 

  • A stronger focus on the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, and increased quality of aid delivery.

 

 

  • Examining the possible expansion of a guest worker program for people from the Pacific Islands.

 

 

The accompanying set of spending and savings measures revealed that the planned freeze to aid in real terms uses 2012-13 rather than 2013-14 as the base year, meaning that reductions in planned aid start in the current financial year, and total aid over four years is $4.5 billion lower than previous estimates.  The “before and after” figures below show the financial impact of this policy announcement.

 
Financial impact of aid reductions

 
2013-14
2014-15
2015-16
2016-17
Previous estimates ($m): [1]
5,666
6343
6849
7398
After reduction ($m):
5,010
5470
5619
5657
Difference ($m):
656
873
1,230
1,741

On average, aid in 2013-14 to 2016-17 is expected to be 0.33% of GNI, compared with the average of 0.39% of GNI over the same four years included in the previous Government’s August Economic Statement. 

The policy would result in a $250 million reduction in aid in 2013-14 in real terms from 2012-13, although aid would be just maintained in real terms in the four years to 2016-17.  (The 2013-14 Budget provided for an increase in aid in real terms of about $400 million this financial year.)  Obviously, our greatest concern is the reduction in 2013-14, as nearly all aid for this year is already committed and any reductions would require deferring or cancelling some committed payments. 

RESULTS seeking to find answers to several questions about how the Government would achieve these reductions, including:

    • Whether the amount included in aid since 2012-13 for on-shore asylum seeker costs ($375 million) would be part of the reductions (which could soften the blow a little). 

 

  • Whether existing multi-year contributions due to finish in 2013-14 (such as the current pledges to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, the GAVI Alliance and the Global Partnership for Education) will proceed in full.

 

 

Opportunities 

The current situation presents several opportunities as well as threats for campaigners on poverty:

    • As we have advance notice of planned reductions in aid (unlike previous times when governments have deferred or reduced planned aid), we have time to seek changes to the announced policy. 

 

  • In the House of Representatives, up to 42 of the 150 members will be new, and the best time to influence the priorities and position of a Member of Parliament is when they are newly-elected.

 

 

In coming months, we will be seeking MPs’ support for an increased contribution by Australia to the Global Fund for 2014 to 2016, and to extend contribution to GAVI by two years to 2015.  One objective for these actions, as well as securing much-needed funding for these organisations, is to help build the case for increased overall aid by highlighting effective measures to improve health.

RESULTS is also planning to have our staff and volunteers visit Members of Parliament in Canberra  in one of the early sitting weeks of the Parliamentary term, so we can make our case to a number of the influential MPs and potential allies in person.  

 


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