CBM Australia welcomes Labor’s promised investment in Australian aid and addressing avoidable blindness.

As active members of Vision 2020 Australia; previous partners in the delivery of the 2008 Avoidable Blindness Initiative; and a development organisation dedicated to ending the cycle of poverty and disability, CBM Australia today welcomes the announcement that a Shorten Labor government would invest $32 million in a Pacific Avoidable Blindness and Vision Loss Fund.

CBM CEO Jane Edge said this commitment would complement and strengthen Australia’s ongoing and bipartisan leadership in disability-inclusive development.

“In most countries in the Pacific, the majority of blindness occurs as the result of cataract, myopia or refractive error – all easily treated, at minimal cost. Yet countless people in the region experience needless vision impairment.

“Limited access to eye health services can further entrench existing inequalities. Women are four times more likely to need eye surgery than men due to unequal access to health services. Health facilities can also be inaccessible to or ill-equipped to support people with pre-existing disabilities, leading to higher rates of acquired blindness and compounded disability.”

Ms Edge said working across the full spectrum of disability—from supporting treatment and early intervention, to ensuring the 20 per cent of people permanently impacted by blindness can access support and opportunities—would ensure that Australian aid is leaving no one behind. 

“Like the previous Avoidable Blindness Initiative and the East Asia Vision Program, which worked to strengthen health systems and referral pathways to disability services, any new avoidable blindness initiative must contribute to the implementation of the Australian aid program’s Development for All strategy for disability-inclusive development.

“We hope to see Penny Wong’s announcement of $32 million on behalf of the Australian Labor Party accompanied by an increase in the annual $12.9 million allocated to support wider disability inclusion initiatives.”

CBM Australia also welcomes the ALP’s broader commitment to an inclusive Australian aid program which prioritises the role of civil society, in Australia and globally. This includes the commitment to increase base funding for fully accredited Australian development organisations working in the world’s poorest countries.

Ms Edge said this increase would provide tangible improvements in the lives of some the world’s most marginalised people, including those living with disabilities.

In the past financial year, CBM has reached 10,639,790 people with disabilities or at risk of disability through community-based inclusive development programs, systems strengthening and capacity building; supported by the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).

In a speech last night, Senator Penny Wong announced the increased funding would be distributed through ANCP.

Ms Edge said ANCP was a high performance vehicle for delivering Australian aid and creating long-term, sustainable impact in country.

A 2015 evaluation conducted by the Office of Development Effectiveness highlighted that while the ANCP accounted for only 2.7 per cent of Australian aid funding, it delivered 18.2 per cent of aggregate development outcomes.

“Through ANCP, CBM has worked with local partners to deliver transformative programs that bring about systemic improvements in health, education, vocational training and social participation for women, men, girls and boys with disabilities,” Ms Edge said.

 “ANCP funds have also permitted CBM Australia to work with powerful, local advocates to build change and advocate for mental health reform across five countries of West Africa.”

CBM is hopeful the Federal Government will also take steps to increase funding for high-value aid investments like ANCP and treatment for avoidable blindness.

“Last night’s announcements represent an investment in performance,” Ms Edge said. “These investments must be bipartisan, and occur within the context of broader growth for the Australian aid program.

“We hope to see the coming federal budget take steps to leave the Australian aid program’s volatile history squarely in the past, and call on Treasurer Josh Frydenberg to match the Opposition’s commitments.“