Report – By Daniel Drageset
A development agency is critical about the cut in Australian aid to the Pacific that is proposed by the incoming Tony Abbott government.
Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott and his Liberal Party announced recently that it would cut the aid budget by A$ 4.5 million.
The New Zealand branch of the TEAR Fund said that this would have a negative impact on Pacific countries which rely on Australian and New Zealand aid.
“The planned cuts tell their poorer Pacific neighbours, who depend on Australian and New Zealand aid, that their development needs, their health, their education, their disaster responses are not important and that they can wait, while Australia takes their funding for more roads at home,” TEAR Fund CEO Ian McInnes said.
The Australian decision to cut the aid would also increase the burden on New Zealand’s aid programmes, according to McInnes.
The A$ 4.5 million saved on aid cuts would instead go to road-building in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.
Abbott said recently that he shared the Labor Party’s commitment to contribute 0.5 percent of the federal budget to aid, but told reporters there “are higher immediate priorities”.
“The best thing we can do for our country and ultimately the best thing we can do for people around the world is to strengthen our economy.”
McInnes was not impressed by Abbott’s statements saying 0.5 percent of the federal budget “was hardly a large sum” to contribute in aid.
He said that the excuses used to justify the cuts such as Papua New Guinea is corrupt and AusAID was inefficient, “are not good enough”.
New Zealand and Australian aid are both making excellent headway in the Pacific and afield, raising living standards and responding to disasters in some of the world’s poorest nations.
Aid money is robustly monitored.
Poor Pacific Islands should not have to wait for Australia’s roads to be built before they can expect a basic standard of living.
New Zealand Prime Minister John Key also feared the consequences the aid cut could have for the Pacific Islands.
“These are countries that need a lot of support and help so if there is less money coming their way, they’ll obviously feel that over time,” Key said to 3 News.
“It will certainly make the money that we spend here even more valuable.”
Charity Campaigns have estimated that it costs $2000 to “holistically” save a life, suggesting that as much as 449,888 lives are at risk because of the Australian aid cut.
Lisa Denney at the Overseas Development Institute said in a commentary in The Guardian that Australia should reconsider cutting the aid.
Based on comments the Liberal Party made the last year, she feared that the cuts would be made in the areas of developing country governments and promoting the rule of law and good governance.
Without a responsible government that is accountable to the people and the existence of the rule of law to protect rights, practical projects risk feeding a corrupt system that does little to eradicate poverty in the long run.
So, before hastily cutting the aid budget to reduce the country’s deficit, Australia’s new prime minister and his party would do well to consider the impact of such cuts – to Australia’s reputation as a good international citizen that adheres to long-standing commitments, and to good aid practice. There is still time to reconsider.
Pacific aid ‘not wasted’
Democratic Labour Party leader, John Madigan, agreed that cutting Pacific aid would be wrong because it was “desperately needed” there.
In a Radio New Zealand International interview, he said Pacific countries, particularly those who helped Australia in the past, need to be the beneficiaries of aid.
Madigan said he felt ashamed to be Australian when he visited East Timor.
“They put their lives on the line for us and our soldiers said we will never forget this. But our government has.
And some tacit recognition in any war memorial…If those diggers were alive today how would they feel about what’s happened to these people, how we’re treating them.”
He was also critical of the notion of Australia spending more aid money on Indonesia, saying Indonesia had no need for the huge level of aid provided by Australia.
Daniel Drageset is the Pacific Scoop internship editor.