In the lead-up to the March 29 Australian federal budget, Global Citizen Oceania compiled a pre-budget submission that sets out several recommendations on exactly how leaders can use investments in international development in a way that maximises the alleviation of poverty and suffering.
Below, we break down some of the key themes in the submission, unpack spending from past budgets and explain why investing in health, climate and development throughout the Asia-Pacific will continue to pay off as the region bounces back from the pandemic.
What Exactly Is the Australian Federal Budget?
The federal budget is scheduled to take place on Tuesday, March 29.
The budget is the government's estimate of revenue and spending, and its policy plan, for each fiscal year.
The 2022-23 federal budget is likely to outline the government's continued economic recovery plan from the pandemic and tell us what Australia will spend on international development in the coming year. Funding for other critical areas like Australian education, gender equality and the environment will also be made clear.
The most recent federal budget saw the nation’s international development budget for 2021-22 cut by $14 million from the year prior. Australian aid remains the least generous at any point in its history, sitting at just 0.21% of gross national income — a far cry from the United Nations’ recommendation of 0.7%.
How and Why Should Australia Support the Health of Pacific Islanders?
Since the fast-moving and unpredictable pandemic first emerged, Australia has shown true leadership, pledging more than $1 billion in additional aid investments to ensure vaccines could be produced and subsequently supplied to vulnerable Asia-Pacific communities.
The nation’s previous investments, however, are shortly set to run out.
"Australia’s current investments to protect the health of Pacific Islanders will soon expire, leaving the region, including those in Australia, exposed to the full impacts of new COVID-19 variants,” William Naughton-Gravette, Global Citizen Oceania’s partnerships and policy advisor, explained. “The upcoming federal budget is the Australian Government’s key opportunity to make a positive difference for people living in the Pacific while also simultaneously enhancing the health and security of Australians.”
Further investment into COVAX — a global initiative to distribute COVID-19 vaccines worldwide — will be vital.
Australian advocacy groups are calling for the Australian Government to contribute at least AU$250 million to support the organisation this year. According to Naughton-Gravette, Australia must provide this contribution to ensure the most at-risk in the Pacific can access timely COVID-19 vaccines to boost coverage and protect against the emergence of new variants.
A $450 million injection into the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria during its upcoming replenishment event has also been recommended — as has a $25 million pledge to support the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.
What Should Australia Do to Help Quell Climate Change in the Pacific?
Alongside prioritising health, the Australian Government must also use the upcoming federal budget to protect Pacific Islanders against the threats of climate change. The recent environmental crisis in Tonga proves that Australia’s northern friends are not equipped to deal with natural disasters — including those brought about by climate change — by themselves.
“Not only do the impacts of climate change impact outcomes for global health and vice versa, it is also true that one problem cannot be solved without addressing the other,” Global Citizen Oceania wrote in its pre-budget submission. “Australia can wait no longer to support the rest of the world’s efforts to take climate change seriously and act in the best interests of everyone — especially those living in extreme poverty, who will always stand to feel the worst effects of climate change.”
According to environmental activists, Australia’s current commitments to mitigate climate change are "highly insufficient."
Australia’s Pacific neighbours, meanwhile, are among the world’s most climate-vulnerable.
"Climate change represents the single greatest threat to the livelihood, security and well-being of Pacific people,” the United Nations’ Development Programme reports. "Saltwater intrusion, droughts, erosion and reef degradation will force [Indigenous people] to migrate well before their land disappears beneath the ocean. In addition, diminishing freshwater supplies from saltwater intrusion and droughts affect vital food crops and food security.”
Advocates throughout the region are now demanding an increase of Australia’s emissions reduction target to 74% by 2030 and an increase in its investment in international climate financing to the agreed fair-share of US$3.5 billion per year.
How Can You Ensure the Health and Livelihoods of Pacific Islanders Are Protected?
You can take action on Global Citizen’s platform by emailing Australia’s Finance Minister Simon Birmingham, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja. These leaders have the power to determine the extent and breakdown of the nation’s aid budget.
The louder the chorus of voices, the more likely these policymakers are to listen.
Join Global Citizens across the world in taking action now.