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When It Comes to Foreign Aid in Australia, It's Not 'Us vs Them'

Ness Kerton for AusAID

For too long a perception has persisted that when it comes to Australian aid it is either ‘us or them’, meaning that our government can either only afford to spend money domestically or help others overseas. This is the point that Gina Olivieri makes in her letter to Sunraysia Daily.

We need to stop thinking like this. Australian aid is not being cut in order to spend money on Australian schools, pensions, homelessness or healthcare. While government spending increases, reductions to our overseas aid program continue to be made at the expense of the world’s poor.

Read more: Global Citizens of Australia Say They Want Their Country to Engage with the World

We are a rich country, we can afford to look after ourselves and our neighbours. And when “eighteen of Australia's 20 closest neighbours are developing countries” as this SBS article points out, then it’s especially important to be neighbourly.

In fact the two go hand in hand. By taking care of those in our region who need our help through our overseas aid program, we are building peace and stability in our region and preventing the outbreak of deadly disease in neighbouring countries and on our shores. So it’s not a choice of “us ot them”, it’s just the smart thing to do as neighbours and as a country who wants to continue to prosper.

As a rich, lucky and generous country, we also have a responsibility to play our part in eradicating poverty. But we continue to fall short.

You’ve probably heard us say all this before but we’re saying it again because our aid program is under threat yet again and we need everyone to understand it’s importance so we can fight for it together.

Yes that’s right, last week our Australian federal budget was handed down and it was announced that the aid budget is facing a $303 million reduction in the next four years.

There will be a slight increase in aid spending in the next two years to bring it back up to $4 billion, but there it will stagnate. Instead of increasing aid after these two years in accordance to Consumer Price Index (CPI), it will remain frozen, therefore resulting in the $303 million reduction.

Read more: Australian Lawmaker Becomes First Woman to Breastfeed in Parliament

We have seen drastic cuts to aid since 2014 and our aid spending is now at an all time low. As a proportion of Gross National Income (GNI), Australia’s aid spending will be just 0.2 per cent. That ‘s an embarrassingly long way from the UN’s target of 0.7 per cent of GNI and does not compare well to the UK’s contribution of 0.7 per cent.

Both Labor and the Coalition previously committed to increasing aid spending to 0.5 per cent of GNI. However, Professor Stephen Howes, director of the Development Policy Centre at the Australian National University's Crawford School told The Sydney Morning Herald, that “target was now out of reach ... it's hard to believe we once had that bipartisan consensus. Seems like a distant memory."

We need to do better. As Olivieri said:

“...when we think we can only afford to help 'Australian battlers' or 'poor people overseas,' fund Australian schools or build schools overseas, fund life-saving vaccination programs for Australian kids or children overseas; the econobabble has won."

"I want all Australians to have what they need to build the life they want and live with dignity. I want that same thing for people all over the world, and expect our aid to play a part in that. Massive cuts to aid don’t reflect that character, and we should demand better."

Join us in demanding better. Let’s hold the Australian government accountable and insist that they invest in aid strive to meet the UN’s goal of 0.7 per cent of GNI.