Make Australian Aid Great Again
If the government’s proposed cuts to the aid budget go ahead in May, our aid program will be the least generous it has ever been. This fact is deeply troubling. Australian Aid provides critical assistance to vulnerable communities within our region and the recent cuts have already had, and will continue to have, a very real human, social, political and economic impact.
This was our motivation to go to Canberra and talk to politicians and staffers from all sides of the political spectrum on March 15 and 16. We were asking for the reversal of the proposed cuts, totalling $224 million, as a step in the process to rebuild an aid budget that Australians can be proud of.
Aid levels have been severely cut over the last few years, from 0.34% of Australia’s Gross National Income (GNI), a common method of measuring aid levels, to 0.25% now. If the cuts go ahead in May, this will fall to 0.22% - the lowest level since the aid program began decades ago. This means that in every $100 that Australia earns, only 22c will be spent on aid.
This unfortunate situation comes despite both major parties having previously been committed to increasing the aid budget to 0.5% of GNI. Regrettably, neither of the two major parties currently have a strong aid policy. Australian aid has slipped off the political agenda even though there is a general belief amongst Australians and politicians that a robust and consistent aid program plays a crucial role in human, social, political and economic development. This is why it is important to let the government know that Australia can do more for our neighbours.
We had a number of constructive conversations with politicians and staffers in Canberra and continue to apply pressure, both directly through our political campaigning and indirectly, through engaging the many Australians who are passionate about this issue. In the short-term we hope to reverse the scheduled cuts of $224 million this financial year. In the long-term, we are advocating for bipartisan support for an increase in funding for Australian Aid to 0.7% GNI by 2030. A commitment to this target is not new, in fact Australia has pledged to it twice. First, in 2000 with the signing of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and then again last year with the signing of the updated Sustainable Development Goals.
The cuts have threatened our international reputation with other governments and their citizens. Our lack of funding for Australian Aid limits the tools of diplomacy that we have available. These cuts also represent Australia shirking our responsibility as a wealthy country to contribute to the reduction of poverty within our region and the world. We know what these cuts result in - lack of funding for those in need, whether it is funding the education of the young, providing treatment for the ill or aiding economic resilience.
Despite our constructive discussions with ministers and advisors in Canberra, we have a long journey to rebuild Australia’s global standing as a ‘responsible power’. It is time for both major parties to support a collective future Australians can be proud of.
Written By Jackson Peck
Director of Political Engagement, Oaktree.