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Federal Government urged not to cut foreign aid in next week’s budget

The Micah Challenge coalition has welcomed the growing number of voices calling on the Federal Government to increase aid in the Federal Budget to be handed down next week.

It says that alongside aid organisations and churches, Australian business leaders, the Greens party and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) have all highlighted “the value in a growing Australian aid program” in recent days.

Excerpt of an open letter published in the Australian Financial Review this week and signed by more than 35 Australian business leaders calling on the Australian Governent to raise foreign aid to 0.5 per cent of GNI.

Earlier this week, more than 35 Australian business leaders – including executives from Qantas, Pricewaterhouse Coopers and IKEA – called on Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Federal Treasurer Wayne Swan to increase the country’s aid budget in an open letter published in The Australian Financial Review .

Meanwhile, the Greens have launched a bill which, if passed, would lock-in a timetable for meeting the international target of giving 0.7 per cent of gross national income (GNI) in foreign aid by 2020 while the OECD, following a review of Australia’s aid program, urged the Federal Government to meet its current commitment to increase aid to 0.5 per cent of GNI by 2016.

Australia currently gives 0.35 per cent of GNI in foreign aid. To the dismay of campaigners, the Federal Government broke its promise to increase aid to 0.5 per cent of Australia”s GNI by 2015 when, in last year’s Federal Budget, it pushed out the timetable by one year to 2016. Then, in December, the Government diverted $375 million away from poverty-reducing programs overseas in order to cover the domestic costs of processing asylum seekers.

John Beckett, Micah Challenge’s national coordinator, says the fact the Government was “working on a difficult budget and trying to find cutbacks and savings wherever it can” could see foreign aid affected.

“This means overseas aid could be in the firing line again and the world’s poorest people could again be asked to sacrifice in order to help balance Australia’s books”, he says.

But Mr Beckett adds that the organisation had been “encouraged by the many voices who are speaking out on foreign aid and particularly heartened by the recent OECD report which has said that Australia is in a very strong economic position to deliver a growing aid budget efficiently and effectively”.





UPDATE 13th May, 2013

Humanitarian organisations have reacted with dismay to Foreign Minister Bob Carr’s announcement today that the Federal Government would be delaying raising foreign aid to 0.5 per cent of gross national income.

Mr Carr made the surprise announcement this morning – a day before the Federal Budget – that the Government would be delaying raising foreign aid to 0.5 per cent until 2017-18, a year later than had previously been announced. It comes in the wake of a similar delay announced as part of last year’s Federal Budget.

While humanitarian organisations have welcomed news that foreign aid will be increased by $500 million to 0.37 per cent of gross national income next year, they have expressed disappointment in the delay in meeting the 0.5 per cent benchmark.

Tim Costello, chief executive of World Vision, said it was “greatly disappointing” that the Government intended to delay aid spending. “This decision will cost lives.”

Mr Costello says that while some politicians believed “every sector should take a haircut this Budget”, Australia”s aid program had already “taken a fair whack”.

“Last budget, $2.9 billion in aid was cut from the forward estimates – some 17 per cent of total net budget savings even though aid makes up only 1.4 per cent of the budget,” he said. “Then a few months ago the Government announced it would be diverting $375 million to fund domestic asylum seeker costs.”

Dr Helen Szoke, Oxfam Australia chief executive, said while “the Australian Government should be showing leadership on the global stage, it has instead chosen to balance the books at the expense of the most vulnerable people in the world.”

“Tomorrow”s federal budget was set to be the real test of whether the Gillard Government would keep its word to help some of the world”s poorest people,” Dr Szoke said. “It has failed this test. All eyes will now be on the Coalition”s budget response to see if it will step up and show leadership on investing in the future of the world”s poor.”

It has been reported that the move is expected to save the government up to $3 billion.



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