Australia setting records for all the wrong reasons

These numbers don't reflect who we are as Australians.

Despite their own financial pressures, many Australians take pride in Australia’s long history of being a generous country. Many dig into their own pockets each month to make regular donations to support people in greatest need. 

As polling data reveals, many Australians also expect the Government to invest steadily in addressing the negative impacts of extreme poverty in our region in a way that contributes to increasing overall stability. 

Australian generosity has helped children and families rebuild their lives after multiple earthquakes struck Nepal, after Cyclone Pam ripped through Vanuatu, after floods devastated Pakistan. It’s helped prevent the spread of Ebola in West Africa and it has helped keep children safe in Fiji and get them back to school following Cyclone Winston.

That’s all set to change on Tuesday. The Treasurer is expected to set a new record by slashing a projected $224 million from a budget that already took a billion dollar beating last year. The projected cut will shrink Australia’s contribution to foreign aid to an all-time low. This means that Australian aid as a share of Gross National Income (GNI) will fall to just 0.23 per cent by 2016-17 – that’s 23 cents in every $100 - its lowest ever level.

These numbers have a direct impact on children - children who are already vulnerable.  
Cyclone Winston turned seven-year-old Grace’s life upside down, as it would many of ours, if our homes, water and food supplies were wiped out.

“For two days we didn’t have water to drink, so we were drinking rain water from the pieces of tin roofs. Later people from Suva started to come and give us water in plastic bottles,” says Grace.

Over 40 families are still picking up the pieces in Grace’s home village of Lawaki in Tailevu Province. Thirty houses were destroyed and three people were injured. UNICEF has already assisted 30,000 people affected by Cyclone Winston – an indication of the scale.

Australia’s financial support means that children such as Grace were provided with emergency support and can now access temporary learning spaces and continue schooling as recovery takes place. Nearly 500 schools in Fiji were damaged, destroyed or otherwise affected by the cyclone. Working with partners such as UNICEF, Australia is providing temporary learning spaces, educational materials, water and sanitation, psychosocial support and school feeding programs to the most affected schools.

In return for our generosity we have reaped the rewards. Our development partnerships have helped to establish a respected standing as a good global citizen and strong diplomatic relationships in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. The quality of these relationships is important in enabling us to establish trade partnerships for our exports, and to work cooperatively on security issues in the region.

Australia’s gutting of the aid program is bucking a global trend. Most other donors, responding to unprecedented humanitarian challenges and recognizing the importance of continued development progress for global stability, increased their aid in 2015—so much so that total OECD aid reached a record high.

Cutting aid affects the poorest and most vulnerable and the question we need to ask ourselves is whether this saving is worth the opportunity lost.

Over the next Parliamentary term, there is an opportunity for a Turnbull or Shorten Government to restore investment and rebuild Australia’s aid program to support those in greatest need and to restore Australia’s standing as a good international citizen. 

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