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Federal Politics

Should a promised boost to the foreign aid budget be deferred for a year to help return the budget to surplus?

Society & Culture Federal Politics Political Opinion
Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Senator Simon Birmingham

Foreign Minister Bob Carr and Senator Simon Birmingham.

Bob Carr, Foreign Affairs Minister

The advocates for increased Australian aid are among the finest Australians. I look forward to working with them closely.

In the lead-up to this year's budget, they were absolutely justified in mounting a campaign to see aid strengthened.

In a tough budget, aid has been secured, strengthened and substantially protected. We are headed for an aid budget of $7.7 billion by 2015/16.

I am proud that in the next three years we will deliver:

• 10 million childhood vaccinations, reducing child deaths and the spread of disease.

• Safe drinking water for 8.5 million people and better sanitation for about 5 million.

• Help for 4 million girls and boys to enrol in schools.

• Assistance for 30 million people caught in wars, natural disasters and other crises.

The simple truth is that in a tough budget we are increasing foreign aid. Our total overseas aid budget will rise by more than $300 million in 2012/13 – from $4.9 billion to about $5.2 billion – the largest aid budget in Australia's history.

Since coming to office, we have increased the aid budget by 60 per cent. Our aid program will reach 0.5 per cent of gross national income by 2016/17. Yes, this is a year later than planned, but in tough times you can't spend money you don't have.

This is a good outcome. Budget revenues are falling by $10 billion over the next two years, but our aid budget continues to rise.

Let's not forget, the Howard government's overseas aid budget never reached even 0.3 per cent of gross national income.

We will meet all existing commitments under the aid program and will continue to do so in an efficient and effective way.

Simon Birmingham, Liberal senator and co-convenor of the Parliamentary Friends of the Millennium Development Goals

For several years now Labor has promised to bring the budget back to surplus in 2013-14 and to provide foreign aid assistance equivalent to 0.5 per cent of gross national income by 2015-16. In this week's budget it suddenly said that it couldn't do both.

The commitment to the 0.5 per cent target was bipartisan. Labor's abandonment of that bipartisan commitment may make it impossible for anyone to now meet it because, like any other spending, we must ensure our aid spending is efficient and effective.

Achieving the higher aid target required a gradual increase leading up to 2015-16 so that we could ensure spending was delivering the desired results. Instead, $2.9 billion of that gradual increase has now been axed.

This broken promise is the result of two areas of Labor mismanagement.

First, Labor's wasteful spending created the four consecutive record budget deficits that made returning the budget to surplus so important and so difficult. Instead of making hard decisions in this budget, it has taken the politically expedient approach of axing foreign aid, while splashing money to selected Australians who hadn't even claimed it.

Second, Labor failed to quickly implement recommendations of its own review into aid effectiveness, especially requirements to adopt strict performance benchmarks on aid spending. Through its own mismanagement it has created the excuse being used to justify this delay.

Australia's aid program funds vital work. This cut has put at risk Millennium Development Goals such as getting more children to school, safer birthing conditions and cleaner drinking water.

It's a sad outcome for Australia, but sadder still for those deserving a better future.

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Poll: Should a promised boost to the foreign aid budget be deferred for a year to help return the budget to surplus?

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Poll closed 11 May, 2012


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  • Aid is OK if it ever gets to the actual destitute people. Of the billions of dollars sent to Afghanistan, 99 cents in the dollar were siphoned off for 'contractors expenses'. Heck our security costs are high, they would say, and such like disingenuous things.

    Date and time
    May 10, 2012, 1:47PM
  • Foreign aid is great, and I really hope that Australia can do something to help the millions of destitute people around the world, but let's solve the problems in our own backyard first. Spend the foreign aid money on programs to get the homeless of the streets and into work, to tackle youth crime and high rates of mental illness etc. Work on the problems close to home, then start spending abroad.

    Date and time
    May 10, 2012, 2:12PM
    • Here we go again. Fighting poverty in Australian and overseas isn't an either/or. We can do both. The idea that charity starts at home in a globalised and interconnected 21st century is narrow minded. We have a duty to everyone living in extreme poverty. Plus we are talking about 0.5% of our nations wealth to fight extreme poverty overseas. That is nothing! If you stand justice don't use a nationalistic mentality to justify inaction on reducing one of the greatest injustices of our time, 1.3 billion people living in extreme poverty.

      Charity begins at home but doesn't stop there
      Date and time
      May 10, 2012, 2:22PM
  • Bob Carr you broke a promise that will cost lives. Why should we believe you when you say "Our aid program will reach 0.5 per cent of gross national income by 2016/17" will you make that commitment now and use the poor as your political pawns again? Simon Birmingham you are just as bad, the coalition had a field day criticising Gillard on broken promises, it's just hypocritical to break your own promise to .5 by 2015. And now the coalition is using excuses around aid effectiveness, many recommendations on aid effectiveness were implemented, stop dragging your heals on Australia's commitment to save lives.

    800,000 lives
    Date and time
    May 10, 2012, 2:13PM
  • When are people going to realise that foreign aid to developing countries does little to alleviate poverty?

    Free and accessible birth control, free education and the emancipation of women are the solutions.

    Date and time
    May 10, 2012, 2:20PM
    • And foreign aid can help developing countries initially finance access to birth control, free education and the empowerment of women. If you are a poor country with a low tax base how would you finance access to birth control, free education and empowerment of women?? Aid helps get the economic engine of the ground. Would love to see you evidence that aid does little to alleviate poverty. There are estimates that if the aid budget hadn't been cut 800,000 could have been saved.

      Date and time
      May 10, 2012, 2:50PM
    • Tell it to the aid workers holding skeletal children in their arms while watching them die as we communicate? Don't forget to kiss your child goodnight tonight?

      Pen of hrba
      Date and time
      May 10, 2012, 3:37PM
    • Pen and Lol, I dont think that you realise that all forms of birth control in these poor countries are 100% free and in abundance for everybody, especially those that cannot afford to raise many children, but the problem is that they 'choose' not to use it and therefore inflict upon all their own children a lifetime of destitution, starvation or a very short life expectancy. These people and their own governments are not helping themselves with the literally Billions of free dollars being taken from hardworking Australians who know their financial limitations and choose to have fewer children. I'd love to have more kids, but know that I cant afford to and hence dont. As a taxpayer I'd rather my money be going to help other Australians in need, not some militant run country with millions of starving people that yet see it in their need to spend massive amounts of their GDP on military weapons!

      Date and time
      May 10, 2012, 4:19PM
    • James, of course those things are important. But often that is exactly what aid actually is. Education is a very large part of Australia's aid program. See:

      Aid has not been simply about handouts for a long time.

      Read Up
      Date and time
      May 10, 2012, 4:37PM
    • Dan

      Bully for you. Here is Dan supposedly reasonably educated and living high and dry in western society in one of the richest countries in the world. But does not have the mental capacity to realise that food is more essential and probably cheaper to produce and transport than birth control devices in the Sudan. Well done, Dan we'll put you up for an honoury degree.

      By the way, do understand what Muslim means?

      Pen of hrba
      Date and time
      May 10, 2012, 4:44PM

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