Responding to Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s announcement of a $3 billion infrastructure funding boost in the Pacific region, Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Dr Helen Szoke said:
“While we welcome the Government’s renewed focus on our Pacific neighbours, this announced funding package shouldn’t come at a cost to other vulnerable communities around the world who rely on humanitarian assistance in the form of life-saving Australian aid.
“The world is grappling with a number of protracted humanitarian crises, extreme poverty and crippling inequality. The Government’s announcement means simply shifting what little aid Australia already gives from one region to another. This does nothing to tackle these complex global challenges or establish Australia as a strong leader with a voice on the global stage.
“Focusing on infrastructure built on conditional loans is not the most strategic way for Australia to exercise influence in the Pacific, maintain its standing as a valued member of the Pacific neighbourhood or support the development aspirations of the region.
“While infrastructure is important, we must focus in particular on the number one threat to the livelihoods, wellbeing and security of people in the Pacific – climate change.
“Further, any infrastructure investment in the region must be resilient to the impacts of climate change and stimulate economic growth that also benefits people living in poverty. It is unclear at this stage whether these elements have been factored in to the Government’s plans or indeed whether any incentives for Australian companies to do business in the Pacific would come from an Australian aid budget, which is at historically low levels.
“Oxfam believes Australia’s strengths lie in supporting partnerships with Pacific civil society organisations – building resilient communities that can adapt to disasters, achieve gender equality, and benefit from sustainable livelihood opportunities. This is where we will have the most influence, not trying to outspend China.”
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