Above: Syrian children in a refugee camp in Beqaa, Lebanon. Photo: Ahmad Sabra, 2013
The latest cuts to Australia’s foreign aid budget are a “tragedy of untold consequences” in the opinion of World Vision CEO Tim Costello, while social justice blogger Matt Darvas has quoted a phrase coined by UK Prime Minister David Cameron, saying Australia is trying to “balance the books on the backs of the poor”.
Last night the government announced it would slash $225 million from its foreign aid allocation in the 2016-2017 Federal Budget. This means that in the past three years the government will have slashed the aid budget by more than $1 billion (and cut a total of $11 billion from planned aid spending since 2013).
As a nation we’ll be giving just 0.23% of our national income to foreign aid – the lowest level ever recorded.
Mr Costello was especially disappointed that “fragile” nations including Myanmar, Pakistan and Afghanistan will be affected, as will programs in Africa. He was glad to hear the government is strengthening its support to Syria, but was unhappy that there will be less in the bank to respond to natural disaster emergencies.
He called for a bilateral commitment to foreign aid.
“The madness of endless aid cuts was launched by Tony Abbott two days before the last federal election, now Mr Turnbull and Mr Shorten have the opportunity to come together to change that,” he said.
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We’re Becoming a Stingy Nation Says Matt Darvas
Matt Darvas of the Purpose Collective, who works for Compassion Australia and has travelled and worked with numerous humanitarian organisations, has written a scathing article about the aid cuts.
He reminds readers that John Howard’s government agreed in 2000 to start increasing its foreign aid giving with the goal of reaching 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI). In 2007 that goal was lowered to 0.05%, but at least a commitment remained, with a target date of 2016. Now that goal seems a distant memory.
“Australia has an income per person more than 50% higher than the UK and Australia has only around 20% the level of government debt, yet it provides only 1/5 the level of aid,” he writes.
Australia’s Never Been Less Generous: Micah Coalition
Also hitting out at the cuts is the Micah Australia coalition of churches and Christian agencies.
“These cuts will take aid to its lowest level and will make our nation the least generous we’ve ever been,” said national co-ordinator Ben Thurley.
“While many other countries are increasing their international assistance to the fight against poverty, Australia is stepping back its role in building a fairer world.”