Australian Aid Is Not A Choice Between 'Us and Them'
By Areej Hassan
Oaktree Volunteer, Tasmania
“But what about our homeless people and veterans neglected by the government? We should be taking care of them, first!”
If only I had a dollar for every time I saw this particular statement in the comments section of every Facebook post about refugees, asylum-seekers and Australia’s wilting foreign aid. If I did, I would have enough money to accommodate a family of refugees.
Australian aid saves lives. Photo via The Conversation
Now, these assertions aren’t necessarily wrong. Homeless Australians and veterans do need our help. But the weird thing is that these groups are often only mentioned when the discussion of helping ‘foreign people’ comes up.
No human life is greater than another. It’s understandable for people to think about domestic affairs first, but it shouldn’t be used as a reason to undermine the aid budget. Australian aid is crucial for ensuring our neighbours have access to basic human rights (like to food, education and healthcare) that we take for granted.
Australian aid is currently the lowest it’s ever been: only 0.21% of GNI (Gross National Income). The United Nations recommends that members of the OECD should have an aid budget of around 0.7% GNI.
In December 2014, the Abbott government made significant cuts to Australia’s aid program. Former Australian treasurer Joe Hockey said that savings of $3.7 billion over the next four years would offset new commitments in other areas of the budget. But according to a media release by Homelessness Australia, the savings have not improved the housing and homelessness sector. The decision by the 2014 Mid Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook to cut grants going into the housing and homelessness sector still hasn’t been overturned, so it’s not a matter of shifting money from one area to the other as both have been negatively affected.
Graph via Sydney Morning Herald
Supporters of Australian aid are not asking to increase tax rates or immediately increase money going into aid. We are campaigning to halt the continuous cuts to the aid budget. There has to be a way to maintain our humanitarian programs in neighbouring countries so they can access basic rights such as education, food and healthcare. Australia’s decision to rip vital aid programs off the table means it will drop out of the top ten OECD donors and fall in the global donor generosity rankings.
Even though Australia remains the largest donor in the Asia Pacific region, it has severely reduced finances that were funding life saving programs in neighbouring countries. The closure of eye clinics in Pakistan are just one of the dozens of programs that have become casualties of the swinging cuts. More than $23 million was cut from aid going to Pakistan, discontinuing programs like: Pakistan-Australia Prevention of Avoidable Blindness, Citizen Engagement for Social Service Delivery Project 3 and Pakistan Partnership for Improved Nutrition Multi-Donor Trust Fund.
Hailing from Pakistan myself, I had no idea it received humanitarian assistance from Australia. This shows how, in between all the doubts and disapproval, there have been positive results of our relief systems. Awareness is the missing key component. I am grateful for all the good work carried out with this money, but disappointed that it won’t be continuing at the same capacity anymore.
The Australian aid program is complicated and complex like any other in the world. People will always remain hesitant about where the funds are going and where they could be distributed instead. But Australian aid saves lives, so we have to open our hearts and realise how valuable it really is.