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