Australia's Step Up in the Pacific Ignites Concerns Over Foreign Aid Cuts
Australia steps up efforts in the Pacific, but what will it mean for the rest of the region?
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced Australia will step up in the Pacific, pledging closer economic and political ties via increased defence initiatives, new infrastructure development and disaster response assistance.
During Morrison’s first Pacific policy speech, the newly appointed Prime Minister elaborated that key commitments would revolve around a $2 billion infrastructure initiative to provide support for critical infrastructure development throughout the region. A $1 billion boost to export credit agency EFIC — to support investments which will have a “broad national benefit for Australia” — was similarly announced.
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"Australia’s national security and that of the Pacific are intertwined,” Morrison stated, before hinting that Australia intends to curb China’s growing influence in the region. “My government is returning the Pacific to where it should be — front and centre of Australia’s strategic outlook, foreign policy and personal connections. This is our patch.”
Whilst Morrison announced the projects would “stretch Australia’s aid dollars further,” he was particularly vague about where the money to fund the projects would come from or the possible impacts the new projects may have for the nations preexisting aid budgets.
Australia’s aid budget is at its lowest level in history and the PM's indication that the Pacific step-up is coming “from within the budget” is a problem. A step-up in the Pacific is a step-down in Asia and the rest of the world. Australia’s influence will diminish accordingly.— ACFID (@ACFID) November 8, 2018
In response to Morrison’s announcement, the Australian Council for International Development has called on the government to stop reshuffling foreign aid spending and instead commit to ODA increases that focus on poverty alleviation and sustainable development.
"Recommitting to development cooperation with Pacific neighbours is a positive step. However, poverty alleviation and sustainable development should be the priority,” CEO of the Australian Council for International Development Marc Purcell stated. “Australia’s aid budget is at its lowest level in history and the Prime Minister’s indication that the Pacific step up is coming ‘from within the budget’ is a problem. A step up in the Pacific is a step down in Asia and the rest of the world.”
As our Pacific partners continue to feel the impact of climate change, Caritas Australia is urging the federal government to focus on stronger Australian climate policies, funding to help our Pacific neighbours adapt to climate change, and grassroots aid. https://t.co/271Se8ahnF— Caritas Australia (@CaritasAust) November 8, 2018
Morrison’s Pacific step up address furthermore made no comment about climate change. For CEO of Caritas Australia Paul O’Callaghan, omitting climate change assistance proves Australia isn’t listening to what Pacific Islanders are truly calling for.
"The highest policy priority presented by the Pacific’s political and church leaders has been for Australia to demonstrate leadership in its own climate policy, particularly on national emissions and to commit a reasonable share on climate finance,” O’Callaghan announced. “The latest announcement continues to ignore that regional priority.”
Australia’s foreign aid budget currently sits at 0.22% of gross national income. Morrison has confirmed there will be no increases to aid under his government.
Budget increases, however, could see an expansion in programs that would work to lift people out of extreme poverty by offering improved education, universal healthcare, superior governance, access to clean water and equality for women and girls. This in turn prevents the spread of disease to Australian shores, promotes foreign political stability and ensures regional peace.
Australians can expect confirmation about how the nations already stretched aid budget may be affected by the new regional projects in the national Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook report before the year’s end.