Cutting Australia’s aid spending would be a tragedy

Media Releases, Opinion article written on the 05 Feb 2010

Nationals Senator Barnaby Joyce this week suggested Australia could make cuts to its overseas aid program to pay for services in Australia.

Oxfam welcomes the fact that the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, quickly corrected Senator Joyce and reiterated the Coalition’s commitment to Australia’s aid program.

Watch Oxfam Australia’s Executive Director, Andrew Hewett explain how Australia’s aid program works on Channel 7’s Sunrise.

Some facts about Australia’s foreign aid program:

  •  Australia currently spends $3.8 billion dollars on foreign aid – that’s 0.35 per cent of our gross national income, or 35 cents in every $100.
  • Both the Government and the Opposition have pledged to lift aid levels to 0.5 per cent of gross national income by 2015.
  • That still leaves Australia lagging behind many other developed nations, including Britain, who have pledged to lift their aid spending to 0.7 per cent by 2015.

 Below is an opinion piece by Andrew Hewett, that was first published on The Punch website.

For a politician who prides himself on his relationship with Australian voters, Barnaby Joyce’s comments this week on foreign aid are, frankly, un-Australian.

Senator Joyce used a speech at the National Press Club yesterday to suggest that $50 million in aid that will help people with little or no food in poor countries deal with rising food prices should instead be spent on lowering food prices in Australia.

This year Australia’s foreign aid spending will total just $3.8 billion – or only about 0.35 per cent of our gross national income. That’s 35 cents in every $100. In the context of the Australian Government’s overall budget, we’re talking about a very small amount. Our Government has enough money to fund this, while also spending on essential services here.

Unlike Senator Joyce, Australians have shown time and time again that helping those that are less fortunate than us can be done while we are also helping ourselves. One does not have to be done at the expense of the other.

Over the past few weeks at Oxfam, we’ve seen an incredibly generous response to the devastation caused by the earthquake in Haiti. Our Haiti earthquake appeal has so far received more than $1.5 million dollars from people who want to do their bit to help – and I know many other aid agencies have received similarly generous responses.

In fact, globally Australians rank amongst top four most generous givers to international development charities. When it comes to individual giving, we’re just behind the Americans, who are well known for their philanthropic tendencies.

However, when it comes to our Government spending on aid, Australia still isn’t pulling its weight. As a proportion of our gross national income (GNI) our official overseas development spending still lags behind many developed nations, including Britain, Ireland, Spain, Germany and France.

The Rudd Government has made a welcome promise to increase government aid spending to 0.5 per cent of GNI by 2015. Tony Abbott has today reiterated that this is a bi-partisan commitment, but we are yet to hear Senator Joyce, who is a senior member of the coalition retract his comments. Even at 0.5 per cent in 2015, Australia will still not be pulling our weight – most developed nations have pledged aid spending of 0.7 per cent of GNI by 2015.

Before the earthquake hit Haiti, more than 80 per cent of the country was living in poverty. Now, around three million people need help to find shelter, food, clean water and sanitation. Foreign aid spending from Australia will be part of this effort and that’s something Australians should rightly feel proud about.

Around the world right now, a billion people are going hungry. Most of these are people who live in countries with no social security nets and for whom a small increase in the price of food means making heartbreaking choices about what they can afford.

Australians know that we can spare $50 million to help these people. In this election year, it will be a real shame if Senator Joyce doesn’t.