Australia’s Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong has announced climate change, gender equality, health, and human rights will be at the forefront of the opposition's proposed new foreign aid strategy and budget.
The speech, delivered during the 2019 Annual Lecture in Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland on Tuesday, is Labor’s most significant address on foreign aid in years. Among the noteworthy assurances were vows to increase development assistance as a percentage of national income, appointing a Global Human Rights Ambassador, and $32 million spent to tackle blindness and vision impairment in the Pacific.
"All of us who believe in a strong and generous Australia must push back and articulate why Australia’s international development programs matter; to the lives of those in our region, to our influence in our region, to our own national interest,” Wong stated. "Aid can and does make a difference."
We were honoured to host @SenatorWong at #UQ's @POLSISEngage annual lecture last night. Senator Wong announced health, education, climate, human rights and gender equality will be at the heart of a future Labor gov international aid budget. @UQ_Newshttps://t.co/azOnxfJV2vpic.twitter.com/jrch9KqrUu— HumanitiesUQ (@HASSUQ) March 13, 2019
The success of the aid budget, Wong announced, will stem from a bipartisan approach and ensuring domestic prosperity.
"At a time when nationalism and populism is again on the rise, parties of government need to come together to demonstrate investment in international development does not come at the expense of domestic prosperity — but rather contributes to it,” she revealed. “By working to address inequality at home, we can foster the public support necessary to rebuild Australia’s international development program so that it again reflects the generous spirit of the Australian people.”
Australia’s foreign aid spending is currently at its lowest level ever after a sequence of large cuts since 2014. The current budget sits at 0.22% of gross national income, a figure enormously far from the United Nations 0.7% target.
In December, the Australian government’s Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) announced the budget over the forward estimates would move into surplus for the first time in 11 years. Despite this, no statement was announced by the Coalition about a foreign aid budget expansion.
Micah Australia’s Executive Director Tim Costello called on the Coalition to focus on aid in their election commitments.
“Today we welcome the reaffirmed commitment by Labor in rebuilding our shamefully low levels of aid and call on the Coalition to restore bipartisanship by matching a reprioritization of aid,” he announced in a statement. “It is disappointing that the Coalition is yet to outline any concrete plan to restore aid. This is despite the talk of their aspirations to increase aid once the budget was back in surplus. With the recent MYEFO showing we are on track for a return to surplus in 2019-2020, there are no more excuses.”
Read More: Australian Aid Saves Lives — But We Need to Do More
Caritas Australia’s CEO Paul O’Callaghan echoed Costello's comments.
“Aid programs transform the lives of millions of people. Simple things like access to clean water or the opportunity to go to school can make a world of difference in enabling people to break free from the cycle of extreme poverty,” he stated. “We expect that both major political parties will restore the Australian aid budget in line with our formal government commitment as a signatory to the Sustainable Development Goals.”