The Australian government has significantly reduced foreign aid funding throughout its region, including for education and health projects in some of the poorest nations, in order to increase funding for infrastructure in the Pacific, the Australian reports.
The latest statistics, which were acquired by Labor during Senate estimates, show aid to Southeast Asia was slashed by 42% over the past five years. Indonesia and Vietnam have had half their aid cut, while aid to the Philippines fell by 44%, Loas by 41% and Cambodia by 33%.
Papua New Guinea has been the biggest recipient of Australia’s aid spending reshuffle.
Over the past five years, the southwestern Pacific nation, Australia’s closest neighbour, took home a 16% increase in aid — totalling over AU $80 million.
While aid has peaked for Papua New Guinea, and overall aid spending in the Pacific has increased since 2015, some of the region’s poorest nations have been ignored. Aid spending remained unchanged in Nauru and the Solomon Islands but was reduced by 26% in the Cook Islands, 17% in Tuvalu, 14% in Samoa and 10% in Tonga and Kiribati.
Aid funding for health projects decreased by 75%, 36% and 22% in the Cook Islands, Samoa and Fiji, respectively.
The Australian government has been slammed for its “short-sighted” approach to regional engagement, following revelations it has slashed aid in Southeast Asian countries to boost investment in the Pacific. @ACFID@micahaustraliahttps://t.co/pPTzTXUQRb— Pro Bono News (@ProBonoNews) February 18, 2020
Pat Conroy, Labor’s spokesman on international development and the Pacific, said the cut in aid spending has massively impacted Australia’s influence in Southeast Asia and would have long-term consequences for the region’s health security.
"The cuts to Australian assistance on health have also hit our Pacific neighbours particularly hard, despite the government’s claims of a Pacific step-up,” Conroy stated, according to the Guardian. “Cutting health assistance to Samoa by 36% in the aftermath of its tragic measles epidemic raises questions about whether the Morrison government is genuinely responding to the needs of Australia’s Pacific friends.”
Australia’s aid organisations have echoed Conroy’s comments, claiming that while infrastructure programs are influential, health and education programs are a considerably better use of money when it comes to pulling people out of poverty.
"The links between health and poverty reduction are well known, and the links between poverty reduction and regional stability are really clear,” said Bridi Rice, the director of policy and advocacy at the Australian Council for International Development, according to Radio New Zealand. “So, we think it is nothing short of a strategic misstep to be reducing health and core development spending on education as well, at this time."
A representative from the department of foreign affairs and tradetold the Guardian Australia’s aid program remains “focused on promoting economic development, reducing poverty and enhancing stability.”
“Australia is delivering an aid program that is affordable and effective — one that is focused on promoting economic development, reducing poverty and enhancing stability, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region,” they said. ”The government has reprioritised our aid program to support the Pacific Step-up. Our aid to the Pacific will increase to a record $1.4 billion in 2019-20, recognising our enduring ties with our nearest neighbours.”
Overall, Australia currently spends just 0.21% on international aid — a figure well below the United Nations target of 0.7% and a 27% fall in real terms of since 2013.
The new aid insight comes just days after the submission process closed for a new review into the nation’s aid program.
The review will specify what Australia’s aid spending seeks to accomplish and reassess which countries receive aid and for what outcomes. The results of the review are expected to be released in the coming months.