Foreign aid sector hoping to dodge 2017 Budget razor

SBS World News Radio: For the first time in four years, foreign aid spending is expected to avoid cuts in the May Budget.

Aid onboard an Australian RAAF C-17 Globemaster.

Aid onboard an Australian RAAF C-17 Globemaster. Source: AAP

Civil war has devastated the desert country of Yemen in the Middle East for more than two years.

Fighting between forces loyal to an internationally recognised government and a Houthi rebel movement has displaced more than three million people and left nearly seven million facing starvation.

For the first time since tensions escalated, Australia is now offering $10 million in aid funding to help pay for food, healthcare, water and sanitation.

Oxfam Australia chief executive Helen Szoke says, after years of cuts to foreign aid, it is all being seen as a positive.

"There's a human face to the impact of these cuts, and we should never lose sight of that. Every dollar that Australia spends makes a difference to a human being. This is not just some diplomacy effort on the part of this Government."

In last year's federal budget, aid spending was reduced by $244 million, bringing it down to less than $4 billion overall.

Back in 2015, foreign aid suffered an even bigger cut of $1 billion.

Helen Szoke says the process itself has been alarming.

"We've seen that the cuts that can be made to that budget can be made without having to put any of these matters through the Senate, and it's a cautionary tale, as far as our sector is concerned. Any further cuts to the aid budget further decrease the impact that Australian aid can help to lift people out of poverty."

At the same time, private donations have grown faster than the rate of inflation.

Stephen Howes, from the Australian National University's Development Policy Centre, says foreign aid has been an unreasonable focus for cuts.

"No sector has been cut anything like as much as foreign aid. In fact, if we look at total government spending, it's increased since the Coalition came to power. So foreign aid, the sort of austerity that's been applied to foreign aid, hasn't been applied across the board. And I think it doesn't make sense for an area that could do so much good."

This year, instead of cuts, a modest increase in foreign aid spending is expected.

A boost would mean a sigh of relief for the sector, which says much of the spending goes to neighbouring countries to help remedy issues which could affect Australia.

Professor Howes says those include matters like multi-drug-resistant tuberculosis in Papua New Guinea.

"If we're not able to help PNG solve that problem in that country, then there is a flow of people two ways between PNG and Australia, and we'll increasingly face that problem here in Australia as well."

Australia currently spends 23 cents from every $100 of national income on aid.

By comparison, Britain spends 70 cents: that's three times as much.

The Australian government has committed to achieving a similar sustainable development goal by 2030.



3 min read
Published 3 May 2017 at 3:00pm
By Marija Jovanovic
Source: SBS