The Australian Government has missed a golden opportunity for innovation and investment by failing to reverse its aid budget cuts, Oxfam said following today’s release of the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook.
Despite the Prime Minister recently making innovation a key part of his government’s agenda in order to find new ways to power up the Australian economy, the government has re-committed to cutting its aid investment to the lowest level in history, putting the brakes on a key driver of growth and prosperity.
Oxfam Australia Acting Chief Executive Pam Anders said the benefits of a robust aid budget had been overlooked.
“The ‘modern, dynamic, 21st century’ Australia the Prime Minister wants is an Australia that invests in aid,” Ms Anders said.
“Investment in aid and a poverty-free future is not just supporting those less fortunate to generate prosperity, it is an investment for all Australians.
“Well targeted aid can help prevent conflict, increase stability and generate inclusive economic growth, which in turn creates safer and more reliable trading partners.”
The missed opportunity comes as the reality of the cuts further hit home this year, with the scrapping of funding for life-saving and life-changing programs. The Australian Government slashed aid to Africa by 70 per cent, despite the fact that Australia has close ties to the region, with hundreds of Australian mining companies operating in Africa and a large Australian Diaspora community.
“In his innovation statement, the Prime Minister talked up the importance of deepening ties through new trade agreements in Asia, the world’s economic engine room, yet his government has cut more than $1 billion out of aid to Asia since coming to office in 2013,” Ms Anders said.
“Malcolm Turnbull has said there’s never been a better time to be an Australian business – but there has definitely been a better time if you’re living in poverty in Indonesia and relying on Australian aid.”
In Indonesia, the Australian Government has pulled $263 million worth of funding earmarked for innovative lifesaving work that could have helped up to 11.5 million people prepare for, and better cope with, tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
“Indonesia is one of the most disaster-prone countries on the planet, and with the impacts of disasters expected to increase in the Asia-Pacific region, nowhere is investment and innovation more important,” Ms Anders said.
“Aid makes a real difference to people’s lives, particularly when it is their very survival that hangs in the balance.”
A $7 million peace building program in Sri Lanka due to wind up this month will also not be renewed. The program supported poor and vulnerable women and men affected by conflict to rebuild their lives and bring about sustained peace.
“Last week, the United Nations called for its largest ever humanitarian appeal for the second year in a row, to help the 125 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in crises around the world,” Ms Anders said.
“It’s time for Australia to get down to business and put real investment and innovation into tackling the root causes of poverty and humanitarian crises – increasing its own prosperity in the process – by reversing the cuts to the Australian aid budget.”
Ms Anders said it was not yet clear if the $909 million for resettlement of Syrian refugees would be drawn from the already beleaguered aid budget.
“Australian aid is there to help combat poverty and inequality in the poorest countries in the world,” she said.
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