• Groundhog Week - Government defers aid commitment again

    Posted by John

    13 May, 2013

    I must confess, it feels a bit like groundhog week to me!

    Every year since this current Government was elected, we’ve heard assurances that they are committed to a generous and effective aid program, and firmly committed to a very achievable timetable of increasing life-saving and hope-giving foreign aid to 0.5% of our Gross National Income.

    Yet every year we at Micah Challenge, along with our coalition partners, find ourselves campaigning for the Government to fulfil these commitments.

    And today Senator Bob Carr, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, has been in the press announcing that they once again plan to defer their commitment to reaching 0.5% of GNI going to aid by another year. This takes the timetable out from the original 2015 target to 2017. We estimate this represents a cut somewhere in the order of $4 billion from projected funding, at the expense of the world’s poorest people. Mr Carr also confirmed they will once again divert almost $400 million from the aid budget next year to pay for the rising costs of onshore asylum seekers, making Australia the third largest recipient of our own overseas aid (after Indonesia and Papua New Guinea).

    Perhaps we should be happy that the government has delivered on its planned increase in aid to 0.37% of GNI this year. After all, that will mean that an extra $500 million will be added to the aid budget – a 9.6% increase in a time of many competing priorities. Perhaps we should be thankful, as Mr Carr has suggested, that the diversion of aid to onshore asylum seeker costs has been capped at current levels.

    The problem is that I find it increasingly difficult to be thankful. Why is that? $500 million is a lot of money. Shouldn’t I be celebrating this increase?

    I find it hard to celebrate because over the last 12 months it has become clear that Government has significant difficulty doing what it promised to do – increase life-saving and opportunity-giving overseas aid to just 0.5% of our Gross National Income. And surely I would be accused of naivety if I were to suggest that we could take the Government’s latest revised timetable as set in stone – that we won’t have to fight the Government to keep its own promises again next year.

    I’m a fairly hardy person, and generally an optimist, but I confess that even for me groundhog week in the second week of May is getting a bit tiring. I’m sure that supporters of the aid budget get tired of the yearly ritual as well.

    What our current political leaders don’t seem to understand is that poverty is not a problem that can be continually deferred. For those suffering the effects of poverty, it is a problem that needs to be dealt with today.

    Ms Gillard and Mr Abbott, Mr Swan and Mr Hockey, Mr Carr and Ms Bishop – let’s finish what we started when we committed to free the world from extreme poverty. This week business leaders, churches, the Greens, the global community and everyday Australians have raised our voices. What we need now is your leadership.

    Leadership demands difficult decisions. As the election approaches, we ask you to consider the legacy you want to leave in the world as leaders of this nation. If you take the lead on serving our global community through targeted and effective aid then you will have our support. We will stand with you against any detractors.

    On the other hand, if we must fight again for what we believe is right, then we will continue that fight as long as we need to – even if it does feel a bit like groundhog week.

    To join the growing constituency raising a collective voice in support of Australia’s aid program visit: http://www.micahchallenge.org.au/budget-action.

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    John Beckett is the National Coordinator of Micah Challenge Australia.