• My Budget Rules (2014 Season)

    Posted by Ben

    13 May, 2014

    It's the second Tuesday in May, which can mean only one thing: tonight is budget night. The economy's night of nights. Treasurer Joe Hockey's time on centre stage.

    By now (as with every other budget I can remember), endless budget meetings have been held inside government, stories about budget plans have been planted, numbers leaked, and rumours of cuts and spending have been endlessly speculated about. But tonight all that ends when the budget is handed down.

    How will we at Micah Challenge judge the Abbott Government's first budget?

    First, when it comes to aid, we'll be assessing the budget on how well the programs and country focus are able to demonstrate impact in reducing poverty. We agree that Australian aid is an investment in regional and global security and prosperity. However, the returns on that investment can't be measured in dollar terms alone. For just 1.3% of the Federal Budget, Australian aid contributes to a lot of good in the world.

    Focus on aid-for-trade or economic growth doesn't automatically translate into poverty reduction, or life-saving or life-transforming outcomes for poor and marginalised people, and the Government's laudable emphasis on aid performance and effectiveness needs to be measured against how well it can demonstrate impact in addressing the causes and consequences of poverty.

    Second, we'll be measuring the budget against the word of the Prime Minister, Treasurer and Foreign Minister. The Government has promised no further cuts to aid – which has already been the subject of $4.5 billion in cuts over four years, including $650 million taken out of the aid budget in the current financial year. At the time of the election, the Prime Minister said:

    We are not cutting foreign aid. We are just reducing the rate of increase. Under us foreign aid will increase at CPI, that's all, until such time as the Budget is back into a much stronger position.


    In Question Time in March this year, Foreign Minister Bishop said:

    We said before the last election that we would make savings of $4.5 billion over the forward estimates and that we would stabilise the aid budget to $5 billion a year and thereafter it would increase by CPI.


    Anything less than a 2.5% – 3% increase in the aid budget (in line with the Consumer Price Index) should be seen as a broken promise.

    Finally, we'll be assessing how well the budget positions Australia to lead in sustainability, renewable energy investment, and support for poor communities affected by the intensifying impacts of climate change. We live in the most disaster-prone region in the world, with climate-related disasters such as cyclones, storm surges, and floods already having an enormous impact on lives and livelihoods.

    Recently Tony de Brum, Foreign Minister of the Marshall Islands, said his country was concerned about the Australian Government's seemingly dismissive attitude towards concern about climate change:

    It is tradition that communities be built along shorelines... but now even these areas are being inundated with salt water; areas where gardens and flowers used to grow are now sand and rubble.

    I've extended an invitation to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and to the prime minister to visit the islands and see for themselves what we're talking about, so they cannot be naysayers anymore.


    In the wake of the devastating typhoon Haiyan which struck the Philippines, super-charged by a warming atmosphere and ocean, if Australia wants to be a good neighbour to other nations in the Pacific, then we need to work to ensure that sustainable and equitable growth in the region doesn't further harm the environment, or put vulnerable communities and countries further at risk. Further, we need to to reduce our contribution to the dramatic carbon-loading of the atmosphere which contributes to extreme weather events.

    Oh, but one thing we won't be doing in our budget watch is viewing it from Canberra with a specific aid budget briefing from bureaucrats enabling a level of transparency and questioning from informed and engaged stakeholders. The aid budget briefings that AusAID used to hold seem to have disappeared along with AusAID. We don't yet know if or how the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade intends to replace these briefings, but we and many others are certainly interested in our $5 billion aid budget having this level of transparency and openness and hope that they are reinstated for the 2015 budget.

    Check our campaign page and blog later tonight for our analysis on the Federal Budget and ways you can respond.


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