Responding to the Australian Government’s release of its Foreign Policy White Paper today, Oxfam Australia’s Food, Climate and Humanitarian Policy Advisor Steph Cousins said Australia needed to overhaul its aid strategy if it wanted to meet the paper’s vision:
“We’re pleased the White Paper sets out an ambitious and confident foreign policy agenda that includes laudable aspirations to tackle poverty and promote sustainable development. However, these ambitions won’t be met unless Australia makes critical changes to the aid program to tackle inequality and climate change, invest more in communities to hold their governments to account and resource the aid budget properly,” Ms Cousins said.
“A major factor preventing people from lifting themselves out of poverty is extreme inequality – which works to keep poor people poor while the rich get richer. Australian aid needs to extend to the poorest countries in the world, many of which are outside the Indo-Pacific region, and aid in our region must focus first and foremost on the needs of people in extreme poverty, for whom aid is a lifeline.”
Ms Cousins said Oxfam was calling for both major parties to use the White Paper as an opportunity to re-establish vital bipartisan commitment to growing the aid program.
“An effective aid program needs a coherent long-term investment plan. This remains the missing link of Australia’s foreign policy agenda,” Ms Cousins said.
“Australia’s current aid budget is the lowest it’s been in proportion to our economy in half a century. This represents a serious imbalance in Australia’s policy priorities when you consider aid has a great return on taxpayers’ investment – in the past 15 years aid has contributed to halving the rate of extreme poverty globally, and Australian aid has directly contributed to Australia’s trade and security interests.
“The continuous raiding of the aid budget over the past few years has been short-sighted. To fulfil the ambitions of the White Paper, Australia needs a long-term bipartisan commitment to increasing aid.”
As the world faces increasing risks associated with climate change, disasters and conflict, Oxfam warmly welcomes Australia’s commitment to increasing humanitarian assistance to $500 million per year. Oxfam also acknowledges the White Paper’s commitment that climate change will be a priority for the aid program.
“To turn this commitment into reality Australia needs to deliver a new climate change strategy for the aid program. Currently Australia is not contributing its fair share to the Paris Agreement global target of US $100 billion in climate finance annually by 2020, and Australia’s climate change adaptation programs are ad hoc and under resourced,” Ms Cousins said.
The strong focus in the White Paper on human rights and gender equality also needs to be backed up by reforms to the way Australia approaches aid and diplomacy.
“The White Paper makes definitive commitments to promote human rights and open societies in our region and beyond. To do this, Australia needs to significantly step up its investment in civil society groups, including women’s organisations, the media and non-profit organisations, to hold governments accountable.”
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