Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop is expected to release performance benchmarks for aid. Photo: Alex EllinghausenAid groups say the region’s poorest and most vulnerable people are shouldering a major share of the Abbott’s government’s slash-and-burn budget cuts.
Blasting the $7.6 billion foreign aid reduction as a significant broken promise, aid organisations said it would hurt people living in poverty, particularly women.
Tuesday’s budget revealed the government would not keep its election commitment to increase foreign aid at the rate of inflation. Instead, it will freeze aid at the current level of about $5 billion annually for the next two years before increasing it at the inflation rate.
Marc Purcell, executive director of the umbrella group the Australian Council for International Development, said the broken promise came despite Prime Minister Tony Abbott reaffirming its previous commitment recently.
“When you’re talking about people living on $2 a day, every dollar counts and we’re incredibly disappointed to see the government fail to honour its election commitment,” Mr Purcell said.
He added there were 1.6 billion people living on less than $2 a day in the Indo-Pacific region.
UNICEF Australia spokesman Tim O’Connor said while foreign aid made barely 1 per cent of total government spending, the aid program shouldered a fifth of the federal budget cuts.
“It’s a clear case of a broke promise to the world’s poorest,” he said.
The Coalition’s election commitment to keep aid rising with inflation was already a $4.5 billion cut compared with spending under Labor. That figure has now risen to $7.9 billion with aid flat-lining for two years.
Oxfam Australia chief executive Helen Szoke said poverty and natural disasters compounded by climate change meant major obstacles to development, security and stability in Australia’s region.
“We must do our share of heavy lifting to tackle the challenges that will define the future security and prosperity of our region and the world,” she said.
Yet Tuesday’s budget fell “devastatingly short of this”, she added.
Under the Millennium Development Goals to which the former Howard government signed up, Australia is supposed to strive for a target of spending 0.5 per cent of its gross national income on aid.
Labor repeatedly pushed the target back, but now the Abbott government has abandoned it altogether.
According to Australian Council for International Development figures, the aid budget is 0.33 per cent of gross national income and will fall to 0.32 per cent next financial year and 0.31 per cent in 2017-18.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is expected in coming weeks to unveil performance benchmarks for aid, meaning only the most effective organisations will receive taxpayer funding.
Ms Bishop said on Tuesday that aid would become more efficient and more closely aligned with Canberra’s foreign policy while also encouraging economic self-reliance.
“We will invest in the drivers of economic growth, including trade, infrastructure, education, health and empowering women and girls, to create new jobs and opportunities that lift people out of poverty,” she said.
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