This year has taken me by surprise in more ways than one. But the most pleasant surprise of all has been to witness how our government has stepped up to help our regional neighbours through COVID-19.
I have called it the 'Five pleasant surprises on Aid this year'.
The backdrop to these announcements is quite significant.
Going into this year, we had seen seven consecutive years of cuts on Aid under the Coalition. This is something both myself personally and our sector have been vocal about.
Many of you may remember the ‘horror’ budget of 2014 when Abbott and Hockey found twenty per cent of their budget savings in the Aid budget.
It was stripped of $3.7 billion and from then, there has been on a downward trajectory falling to a low of 0.21 per cent of Gross National Income.
So you can understand why going into 2020, my expectations were sadly low.
Micah has been honoured to help lead the ‘End COVID For All’ campaign bringing together voices from not just the aid sector but business, civil society, community and faith groups to show support for our government assisting vulnerable nations.
We launched this in early July of this year. And since this then, we have found ourselves in the middle of some pleasant announcements.
Here are the five ‘pleasant surprises’ recapped:
1. $80 Million to COVAX AMC
In August, $80 million was announced to the COVAX Advance Market Commitment (AMC) to ensure vulnerable countries in Pacific and South East Asia get access to a COVID-19 vaccine. The AMC will address the acute phase of the pandemic and will help ensure that health care workers and vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, have access.
In addition to this, in September, $123 million was announced for the COVAX Facility. The COVAX Facility helps level the playing field and ensures lower-income countries also get fair and equitable access to any future vaccines. And through this announcement, Australia announced it will help to ensure access for the Pacific and South East Asia. While this will mainly be funded through the Health Budget, it’s still important to recognise.
Image: GAVI, PNG
2. $304.7 Million for Pacific and Timor-Leste
At the Federal Budget on 6 October, $304.7 million was announced to assist the Pacific and Timor-Leste with the social and economic impacts of the pandemic.
This was announced as a ‘temporary and targeted initiative’, but has been counted as Official Development Assistance (ODA). It will be rolled out over two years.
Image: Minister Alex Hawke in the Pacific (Instagram)
3. $500 million for Vaccine Access Initiative
In late October, $500 million was committed to the Vaccine Access Initiative, to ensure access to a safe and effective vaccine for the Pacific and Timor-Leste. This funding will be rolled out over three years. It will man full immunisation coverage for the Pacific, and significant coverage for South East Asia.
This was an announcement of significant and sale unlike we have seen for a while. It’s a historic leadership decision which will promote security, stability and prosperity in our immediate region.
Image: DFAT, Boram Hospital in PNG
4. $1.37 billion loan for Indonesia
And then most recently, Australia announced we would be offering a $1.37 billion loan to Indonesia, a country who is truly facing horrific circumstances due to the pandemic.
The loan is repayable over 15 years and will help the nation combat COVID-19 and also boost the country’s economic recovery. The Loan will be used to support Indonesia’s budget financing for 2020 which is focused on managing the COVID-19 crisis and economic recovery programmes.
Image: Prime Minister Morrison and President Widodo: AFP/Sonny Tumbelaka
5. $550 Million Package for South East Asia
Lastly, a few weeks ago the Prime Minister announced at the ASEAN Summit that Australia would be committing to $550 over XXXX for new development, security and economic programs in South East Asia. It includes:
- $21 million dollars to the ASEAN Centre for Public Health Emergencies and Emerging Diseases
- $24 million towards the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria
- $70 million for Resilience and Recovery in Southeast Asia.
- $232 million dollar package for the Mekong, focused on the environment, infrastructure, cyber and critical technologies, and scholarships
Overall, the Federal Government has boosted Australia’s support to our regional neighbours by more than $1.3 billion.
This is the first set of increases to international development financing by an Australian government in eight years.
That is remarkable.
It is a sure sign of Australia stepping up to help our regional neigbours at this time. The government, particularly Foreign Minister Marise Payne, and Minister for International Development and the Pacific Alex Hawke, are to be commended for their work on these commitments.
We know there is much more work to do.
We must continue to face outwards and be a good global neighbour at a time when our neighbours need our generosity and leadership more than ever.
But it's good to stop and take stock of what has happened, thanks to your advocacy. I have honestly not witnessed this ‘wave’ of good announcement for some time.
So, I’d personally like to say ‘Thank you’.
‘Thank you’ to our government for stepping up at this time and considering the needs of our region.
‘Thank you’ to all our Micah Member Organisations who are the reason Micah is able to exist.
And ‘thank you’ to all those Micah supporters who for years now, have been advocating for an increase to the aid budget and have kept raising their voice and kept pressing on.
It is worth every moment of your time to see the fruition of your good work.