Last night, like every first Tuesday night in May, aid and development advocates from around Australia gathered in Canberra to await the handing down of the annual federal Budget. After three Budgets that slashed Australia’s aid program by a total of one-third, there was only one question on everyone’s lips: would the 2017/18 Budget mark a change for Australian aid?
The answer, in the short term, is yes – but with a catch. Over the next two years, Australia’s overseas development assistance (ODA) will grow at rates slightly above inflation. This will deliver a modest increase in funding available to vitally important development projects in our region and around the world. But after this small step forward, Australia is set to take two steps back, with the aid budget to be frozen for the duration of the 2019/20 and 2020/21 financial years.
This might not sound so bad, but freeze is just another word for cut. With the aid program denied the growth it needs to keep pace with inflation for two years, the development sector is set to lose $303 million in real terms. It’s a major blow to the world’s most vulnerable people.
This decision sits at odds with not only the Government’s own promises about growing the aid program over time, but with its intention to develop a new, long-term vision for Australia’s place in the world through the foreign policy white paper process.
On an extremely disappointing night for Australian aid, some comfort comes from the Government having maintained its commitment to funding the implementation of its vitally important Development for All strategy for disability inclusion in the coming financial year only. This commitment of $12.9 million is small yet high-impact. It indicates that Australia is committed to maintaining its international leadership in ensuring that our aid program, at any size, supports and includes people with disability. Unfortunately, our calls for a multi-year financial commitment to the end of the Development for All strategy in 2020 were not answered.
We will continue to work with our advocacy partners and supporters to call for an end to these cuts, and an end to the volatility and uncertainty experienced by the world’s most vulnerable people. We have time – all we need is your voice.
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