As Australia approaches a federal election with scarcely a decent option on the ballot paper, one of the issues that I wish would receive more attention is international aid. Australia has committed to the Millennium Development Goals, which involve serious effort to eliminate extreme poverty by 2015. That deadline is rapidly approaching, and will be upon us by the end of this next term of Australian government.
I sent the following letter 4 days ago in response to a Liberal Party announcement, to make sure that politicians are aware that this issue matters.
Dear Foreign Minister Smith and Prime Minister Gillard,
This afternoon Julie Bishop committed to appointing a Minister for International Development in an elected coalition government.
I am well aware of our globally privileged position in Australia, and am anxious to use this position of wealth to help those in our international community who are less fortunate.
A Minister for International Development may improve the effectiveness of our aid, but I see that you have a wonderful opportunity to surpass the Liberal party’s proposal.
Will you commit to policies that achieve the Millennium Development Goals by their 2015 deadline?
I don’t claim this to be the best possible letter, but I was trying to ask for more than just a matching announcement about appointing a new minister. I was (and remain) concerned that such an appointment might end up being more about show and noise than about genuine commitment to action. Thus I asked more generally for policies that achieve the MDGs.
I have just received the following response from the Australian Labor Party.
Thank you for your email about the future of foreign aid.
We agree that foreign aid is an important issue in this election campaign. We think that it’s vital that Australia upholds its obligations as a good international citizen.
As Prime Minister, Julia Gillard is committed to an aid program that is generous, effective and in Australia’s national interest.
This year, total Australian aid is forecast to increase to $4.3 billion, up from $3.8 billion in 2009-10.
Federal Labor has made a strong commitment to increase official development assistance to 0.5 per cent of Gross National Income by 2015-16.
And beyond 2015-16, we are committed to progressively increase Australia’s foreign aid, as economic and fiscal conditions permit, until we reach 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income.
Labor has placed the Millennium Development Goals at the centre of Australia’s aid program, directing more funds to education, health and other basic services.
We have made education a flagship of the aid program to give children in poorer countries a chance to go to school and improve their opportunity for a better life.
Tony Abbott and the Coalition would undo much of this good work.
That’s why many people who care about foreign aid are saying that it’s too much of a risk to put Tony Abbott in charge of Australia’s foreign aid programme.
Throughout the former Howard Government’s term of office, the Coalition’s contribution to foreign aid averaged only 0.27 per cent of Gross National Income, and hit a low of 0.25 per cent.
Already this election, the Coalition has announced a $300 million cut to the foreign aid budget (‘Make Poverty History’ Policy Report Card, 2010).
This seriously calls into question the Coalition’s commitment to assist the world’s poorest people.
And Tony Abbott has not ruled out more savage cuts to foreign aid if he is elected as Prime Minister.
At his campaign launch, Tony Abbott committed to the establishment of a “Debt Reduction Taskforce” with a commitment to identify further cuts to Australian Government expenditure, with no guarantees that foreign aid will be exempt from further cuts.
The Coalition’s promise to appoint a junior Minister for Development Assistance, sitting outside of Cabinet, is an attempt to distract from its real plans to cut foreign aid.
The Government has already acted to strengthen Australia’s overseas development assistance agency, AusAID. We have made AusAID an Executive Agency directly responsible to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, a Cabinet Minister, assisted by a dedicated Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance.
If Julia Gillard is re-elected as Prime Minister, there will be comparable arrangements – that means an empowered aid agency and strong representation in Cabinet on foreign aid issues.
There is so much more work to be done.
Through Australia’s development assistance program, we can make a difference and improve the lives of millions, and it is our intention to do more.
We’re proud of what we have achieved so far and what we will do if Julia Gillard is re-elected as Prime Minister on August 21.
You can read more about Labor’s policy on international development
assistance at: http://tiny.cc/yg0q5
Thank you for your email.
ALP Information Services
P.S. Tony Abbott has already promised to cut Australia’s foreign aid. If
you don’t want to see more foreign aid cuts, don’t risk Tony Abbott and
This response sheds a bit more light on the situation, and confirms my suspicion that a Minister for International Development is a distraction from the real issues involved. I do like the emphasis on education (which I believe is one of the few things that can really make a long term difference), and I like the promise of 0.5% GNI by 2015-16. I’m not quite so excited by the “increase to 0.7% as economic and fiscal conditions permit“, as I suspect this looks like a fairly hollow promise. But 0.5 is already double 0.25, and so counts as a fairly good start.