Australian Aid Saves Lives — But We Need to Do More
Each year, millions of lives and thousands of communities are positively impacted by Australian aid.
Over the past few years, Australian aid has helped 2.5 million more children into Afghanistan’s schools, increased access to safe water and sanitation for 87,000 people in Sri Lanka, vaccinated almost 3 million children against killer diseases, and contributed to a 25% increase in the number of trained midwives in Fiji.
Australia provided emergency crisis assistance for floods in the Philippines, 230,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, food insecurity across Africa, and polio outbreaks in Papua New Guinea. Australian aid has funded multi-million dollar health and trade initiatives and supported thousands of communities to fight overall poverty and increase stability.
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With Australia's support, alongside foreign aid assistance from the rest of the world, the number of individuals trapped in extreme poverty has more than halved in the last twenty years - down from 1.9 billion to 840 million people.
But, Australia’s foreign aid program is in the middle of a serious strife.
Australia’s ODA budget currently sits at 0.22% of gross national income. That is enormously far from the United Nations 0.7% recommendation. The Australian government's Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) has announced that the budget over the forward estimates is expected to move into surplus based on higher-than-predicted revenue receipts — for the first time in 11 years. Despite this, no announcement has been made regarding foreign aid increases.
The Australian Council of International Development (ACFID) responded to MYEFO by claiming the government failed to link the aid budget with the Consumer Price Index, which, in turn, results in real-term cuts to aid. ACFID similarly questioned where $500 million of the preexisting grants-based aid budget would be relocated to pay for Australia’s step-up in engagement with the Pacific, including part of the development of a $2 billion infrastructure lending facility.
"The Coalition Government said alleviating global poverty would have to wait until the budget was back in surplus,” ACFID CEO Marc Purcell stated in a press release. “We are still waiting.”
In response to MYEFO, the opposition have announced they plan to incrementally lift foreign aid every year if elected in the next election. Their goal, they announced, would be to more than double the aid budget from the lowest level in Australian history.
Where Australia gives aid. Department of Foreign Affairs.
The nation’s aid spending is currently at an all-time low after a series of dramatic cuts since 2014. The country now sits in 20th position on the donor ladder, behind Japan, New Zealand, and Iceland. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed there will be no increases to aid under his government, and, instead, a record low is predicted in 2021 with 19 cents of every $100 going toward overseas aid.
If the budget is cut further, despite the predicted impending surplus, Australia will be at risk of being overtaken in generosity by Greece and Spain, which, despite recent intense economic hardship, still contribute 0.16% and 0.19%, respectively.
It is evident that investing substantially in the world’s poorest people, particularly in our region, prevents the spread of infectious disease to our shores and safeguards a politically peaceful, stable, and secure area. Not only that, but research has also shown that every additional $1 spent on Australian foreign aid in Asia results in $7.10 in Australian exports.
Furthermore, Australian defence and security establishments have revealed overseas aid should be seen as a reliable instrument of Australian foreign policy. Many have claimed aid allows Australia to assert serious influence in the region.
"Australia talks a big game about its leadership role in the region and beyond, but it doesn't want to pay for it," Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and former senior Defence official, told the Financial Review. "There is not a lot of strategic thinking going on about our place in the region and how we secure it. It's a second order issue with a government looking to save money."
Official development assistance (ODA) as a percentage of Gross National Income (GNI) for members of the OECD DAC. Overseas Aid Tracker.
On average, the Australian population would like Australia to be 12.5 times more generous than we currently are. The Australian people know we are a wealthy country that can take care of our own while also taking care of those in extreme poverty worldwide. They know that budget increases with a particular focus on gender equality, poverty alleviation, and climate change reforms could provide millions more with improved access to education, universal health care, superior governance, and clean water.
By being a good neighbour and a nation of global citizens, Australia will assert itself as a humanitarian leader on the international stage and invest in a more prosperous future for everybody. Shifting government policies to foreign aid spending of 0.7% will reflect the very essence of our Australian-ness: passionate, giving, and multicultural.