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Aid advocates welcome Labor’s proposed increase to Australia’s foreign aid budget

Advocates for increasing Australia’s international aid budget welcomed a promise from Labor to lift the level of foreign aid funding should they win government at the next federal election.

Labor passed a resolution at its national conference in Adelaide on Tuesday to lift the level of the country’s foreign aid every year if it wins power until the budget reaches 0.5 per cent of gross national income, more than double the current level of 0.22 per cent. The move comes after Labor announced on Monday that it would lift funding to the UN refugee agency to $500 million over five years should it take government and increase the community sponsored refugee program from 1,000, to 5,000 people a year.

Voices for Justice Crowd

Tim Costello with advocates at Micah Australia’s annual Voices for Justice gathering in Canberra earlier this month. At the event, the almost 100 Christian attendees lobbied politicians of all parties on issues including increasing Australia’s foreign aid budget. PICTURE: Courtesy Micah Australia.

Micah Australia was among organisations which welcomed the latest pledge.

“This is a welcomed step in the right direction, and one that the Christian community has been advocating on passionately and persistently this year,” said executive director Tim Costello.

Costello also noted that the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook released by the Coalition Government on Monday – which showed the government was on track to deliver a surplus by 2019-20 – would have been the “perfect opportunity” for the government to release its own plans for rebuilding the foreign aid budget.

“[B]ut instead there were no details on any new aid commitments,” he said, adding that a report in The Australian that the Coalition Government planned to find an additional $80 billion of savings through further cuts to the foreign aid budget between now and 2028-2029 was, if true, “very concerning indeed”.

Matt Darvas, campaign director for Micah Australia, added that the announcement came after many advocates, churches and NGOs had raised their voice in support of the world’s most vulnerable.

“It’s encouraging to think our message is starting to get cut through,” he said. “Our nation’s leaders are recognising that our agenda to be a generous global neighbour, is consistent with goodforeign policy and is what is needed in our region…This promise by Labor is a good start. We look forward to continuing our efforts to achievethe rebuilding of Australian aid into the future.”

Oxfam Australia described the latest announcement as a “welcome, sensible approach to rebuilding Australian aid”.

Chief executive Helen Szoke said it would result in an aid program “more capable of tackling the pressing global challenges that require urgent action, including climate change, reducing poverty and addressing runaway economic inequality” as well as put Australia back on track towards achieving the “global promise” of 0.7 per cent of GNI – a benchmark reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals.

“Successive cuts to the aid program have already seen aid spending fall to just 22 cents in every $100 of gross national income over recent years – this is the lowest level in Australian history,” Dr Szoke said. “We can and should do more.”

The Australian Council for International Development – the peak body for aid and international development NGOs in Australia, said the resolution was a “smart move”.

Bridi Rice, director of policy and development at ACFID, said that amid “geopolitical competition in our region, bolstering funding for an effective development program would be a great leap forward for Australian foreign policy”.

“After years of relentless cuts to the aid program, we are delighted that the Labor Party is showing signs of vision and leadership for an Australia where development, defence and diplomacy are equally recognised as foreign policy tool. This is the strategic future of development cooperation in the region, not kneejerk reactions to competition with China.”

ACFID has called on the ALP to release details on how it plans to honour the commitment before the next federal election.



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