13 May, 2014
Somewhere deep inside, I still think that promises made to the poorest people in the world should be honoured. In my mind, I even imagine that I live in a country where others hold that view, or where governments live up to that ideal. I may be suffering from delusion here, but surely I'm not the only one.
The Government is certainly doing its best to disabuse me of these quaint notions. The Prime Minister and Treasurer announced just hours before the 2013 election that they would not cut aid, merely slow its rate of growth. In the 2014–15 budget, however, we discover that there will be a further $3.1 billion in cuts. That means aid is now being cut by $7.6 billion over five years. Aid's tiny 1.3% of the Federal Budget is providing a whopping 20% of the Government's savings measures. So please remember that the people who are really doing the "heavy lifting" for tonight's budget cuts are poor and vulnerable people in our region and world.
The Government announced at the time of the 2013 election that the aid budget would be increased slowly in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI). In the 2014–15 budget, to the contrary, we discover that in fact the aid budget will be deliberately flatlined (with no growth at all) until after 2016, at which point it might, just might, increase in line with CPI.
Our Prime Minister proudly declared in March 2013 that:
"Our policy is to take foreign aid to 0.5 per cent of gross national income…… It does remain the commitment of the Government and, over time, obviously, we are a generous people, we don’t want to be niggardly in respect of our poorer neighbours."
In the 2014–15 budget we discover – in flat contradiction to Mr Abbott's commitment – that:
"The Government will no longer target an increase of ODA to 0.5% of Gross National Income."
Two-thirds of the world's poor people live in Asia and the Pacific, the region where Australia invests the bulk of its aid. So these cuts and broken promises have real consequences for poor and vulnerable communities, and for Australia's standing in our region.
Because of these broken commitments, too, aid will fall even further over time, from just 32 cents in every $100 dollars of national income (0.32% GNI) this year to only 29 cents in every $100 by 2017–18 (0.29% GNI).
Beyond these headline figures, there's little extra to report about programs and priorities in the 2014–15 aid budget. Aid to Africa will be reduced, plans to provide support to the African Development Bank and with the International Fund for Agricultural Development have been scrapped. However, further details will have to wait until the Government's new aid policy is released sometime later in the year. This will be accompanied by the long-awaited performance benchmarking policy: Making Performance Count Framework. Performance counts, certainly, but the main performance that counts for our aid program is its effectiveness in tackling the causes and consequences of poverty.
In his budget speech, Treasurer Joe Hockey said, "Our economic action plan is not about cutting Government spending; it is about spending less on consumption and more on investment so we can keep making decent, compassionate choices in the future."
My fear is that when we come to the future, we'll have forgotten what it means to make decent, compassionate choices.
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Ben Thurley is the Political Engagement Coordinator for Micah Challenge Australia.