• The biggest aid cut in Australia's history

    Posted by Ben

    16 December, 2014

    With due deference to the terror and tragedy of unfolding events in Sydney's Martin Place yesterday, the Government delayed by a few hours the release of its mid-year budget update. However, when the Treasurer finally announced his plans, it was terrible news for Australia's aid program.

    On top of the $7.6 billion already ripped out of Australian aid since coming to office, the Government is planning to cut a further $3.7 billion from aid over the next four years. Despite the fact that aid represents just over 1% of the Federal Government's budget, cuts to aid represent more than a quarter of all the budget cuts this Government has made in the 15 months since coming to office.

    These cuts will take Australian aid to their lowest recorded levels and include the largest single-year cut to aid in Australian history – $1 billion or 20% taken out of the budget from this year to next.

    At a time when Australia's economy is growing, when our debt is 6th lowest among all developed countries, these cuts will plunge our contribution to global development assistance from 34 cents in every $100 of national income (0.34% GNI) to around just 21 cents in every $100 of national income (0.21% GNI). This is a far cry from the previously bipartisan target of 0.5% GNI and even further from the internationally-agreed aid target of 0.7% GNI.

    It is also the lowest level that aid has ever been as a proportion of our national income. At a time when Australia and Australians have never been wealthier, we have also never been stingier.

    After both the Howard and Rudd-Gillard Governments substantially increased aid over a decade as part of Australia's contribution to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, the Abbott Government has made a conscious choice to balance Australia's books on the backs of the world's poorest people.

    The cuts will lead Australia to become one of the least generous nations in the world. By 2017, the Government's planned cuts will plunge us from 13th out of 28 developed country aid donors for the generosity of our aid program relative to our economy down to 19th.

     

    As shocking as these numbers are, even more shocking is the impact this will have on the aid program and the people it supports. Effective aid relies on secure and predictable funding, as well as long-term planning and relationships. Cuts of this magnitude (the third cuts in just 15 months) will have a devastating effect on the outcomes and effectiveness of Australian aid.

    Based on figures from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade about what our aid achieved last year, we expect that $3.7 billion in cuts could mean:

    • around 570,000 fewer births attended by a skilled birth attendant,
    • around 893,000 fewer children enrolled in school,
    • around 1.5 million fewer children vaccinated,
    • around 1.9 million fewer people provided with better access to safe water,
    • around 8.8 million fewer vulnerable women, men and children provided with life-saving assistance during conlicts or crises.

    It is a sad day for Australia's national spirit, a sad day for our leadership in the region and our contribution to global development assistance, and a sad day for the many hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who Australian aid is helping to overcome some of the appalling burdens and tragedies of poverty.

    At this time, I believe, Australian Christians should join together in lament and protest. We might not change the situation, but we can register our concern, and our conviction that God's heart on these matters is different. That we are called as individuals and as a nation to a generosity and justice that mirrors the wonderful generosity and justice of God.

    Please join us in speaking out.

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    Ben Thurley is the Political Engagement Coordinator for Micah Challenge Australia.