Thursday, May 11, 2017

NGO warns of ‘insular’ Australia as govt slashes $223m from foreign aid

Rohingya refugee children attend an open air Arabic school at Kutupalang Unregistered Refugee Camp, where they learn to read the Quran, in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, February 4, 2017. Source: Reuters/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
2017-04-25T110311Z_953446629_RC116D0D65E0_RTRMADP_3_MYANMAR-ROHINGYA-CRISIS-940x580  2017-05-04T011332Z_1150149872_RC14F0C06860_RTRMADP_3_AUSTRALIA-NEWZEALAND  AusAidworld  2017-05-04T011332Z_1150149872_RC14F0C06860_RTRMADP_3_AUSTRALIA-NEWZEALAND
Source: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade-Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop speaks in Sydney, Australia, May 4, 2017. Source: Reuters/Jason Reed

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HANDING down its federal budget the Australian government announced it would cut overseas aid by AUD303.3 million (US$223 million), with international aid agency Caritas warning it meant the country was becoming more “insular.”
The ruling, conservative Liberal-National Coalition announced its fourth consecutive reduction in the country’s international contribution as part of the Budget 2017-18, adding to a total of AUD11 billion (US$8.1 billion) in cuts over only a few years. The cuts in this budget will cover boosted defence and security spending.
Australian aid organisations have responded with resounding disappointment, with many noting the UN’s announcement in March that the world was facing its largest humanitarian crisis since it was founded in 1945.

 “Given Australia remains one of the wealthiest nations in the OECD, this is especially disappointing. This trend damages our reputation and undermines our ability to be taken seriously as a global leader, it also goes against our values,” said Negaya Chorley the head of advocacy at Caritas Australia.

The 2017-18 budget allocates AUD1.9 billion (US$1.4 billion) to Pacific nations, AUD833 million (US$614 million) to Southeast and East Asia, and AUD283.9 million (US$209 million) to South and West Asia. Australia’s aid programs in Africa, the Middle East and the Americas have decimated in recent years.
“We are committed to improving the lives of the most vulnerable in the Indo-Pacific region where we will invest over 90 per cent of our bilateral and regional aid,” said Foreign Minister Julie Bishop in a budget summary released by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
Australia cut 40 percent of its aid to Indonesia in 2015 – previously the country’s largest aid program – shortly after a diplomatic row with its northern neighbour. The government denied this was politically motivated.
Papua New Guinea is now the biggest beneficiary of foreign aid funding from Australia.

Australia’s government has justified the cuts due to a supposed “budget crisis,” despite 26 years of continuous economic growth and one of the highest per capita incomes in the world.

The country’s treasurer Scott Morrison was quoted as saying on Tuesday that “I look forward to the day we can be more generous. We’re a prosperous, strong and generous country.”

But Tim Costello the head of Australia’s largest non-profit World Vision stated that “in the four years since the Coalition took power in 2013, they have systematically cut the aid budget.”

“Trump has made clear he wants to cut the US aid budget by close to 28 per cent. Congress is fighting this but in Australia, the Coalition have beaten him to it.”

As one of the world’s richest nations, Australia’s contribution “to assist the world’s most vulnerable people, is less than half what it should have been,” said Costello.

.: it's 'distressing' to think foreign aid will be cut to boost funding to security agencies

A media release from Campaign for Australian Aid stated that the cuts brought the country’s aid to “its lowest level ever.”
“It’s a budget that takes from the people living in the poorest parts of the world to help fund handouts for wealthy individuals and big corporates,” said director Tony Milne. “This is a budget to appease One Nation, not a budget that is about our common humanity.”

This is the fourth budget in a row the Coalition Govt has cut aid.

“Millions of people in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria are facing starvation, while millions more are seeking asylum from war in Syria. Yet the government continues to raid Australia’s aid budget, which currently sits at an historic low,” added Milne.
World Vision said they had “been hoping for a visionary budget that recognised that the aid budget was more than a moral imperative, it helps further Australia’s interests.”