Oxfam welcomes increase to international COVID support, calls for permanent change

Commenting on tonight’s Federal Budget and its impact on aid, Oxfam Australia Chief Executive Lyn Morgain said:

“Oxfam welcomes the additional $304.7 million committed in this year’s Federal Budget to support our neighbours in the Pacific and Timor Leste to respond to the unprecedented global coronavirus crisis.

“It is heartening to see the Government’s recognition that this is not over for Australians until it is over for everyone. But this change of heart must be permanent.

“The scale of this crisis requires a permanent and long-term increase in funding for Australia’s aid and development response. Without it, countries in our region and around the world won’t be able to get back on their feet, recent development gains will be lost, and poverty and inequality will deepen.

“Tonight’s announcement also falls well short of the additional $2 billion over four years in Official Development Assistance that would allow Australian aid agencies to effectively respond to the ongoing impacts of the coronavirus crisis.

“This ‘temporary and targeted’ fund doesn’t come close to contributing our fair share to the global response as one of the world’s wealthiest nations, -and it explicitly ignores the massive and urgent need that has been further exacerbated by this crisis in countries outside our region, such as Yemen.

“Oxfam has estimated an additional half a billion people could be pushed into poverty by the impacts of this pandemic, including almost 240 million people in East Asia and the Pacific, and close to 130 million people in South Asia. These impacts will last years, if not decades.

“Investment in the long-term economic recovery of South and West Asia – and in protracted crises like Yemen – could have deepened the global partnerships that are essential to Australia’s own recovery, security, influence and prosperity.

“This temporary boost to our international COVID-19 response must be viewed in the context in which it comes: after six successive cuts, and in the midst of an unprecedented crisis that has caused a massive increase in need.

“With growing global uncertainty as a result of COVID-19, we need stronger strategic relationships now more than ever, and greater, long-term permanent investment in the development budget would have seen Australia recognised as a practical partner of choice that sets us apart from other powers, in the region and beyond.

“The announcements this evening are light on detail. It is unclear whether this additional funding has been made up by cuts and reductions to other life-saving programs in the Middle East, Africa or South and West Asia.”

Commenting on the Federal Government’s funding to expand the gas sector, Ms Morgain said:

“Subsidising the gas sector is a betrayal of Australian taxpayers, our Pacific neighbours and the entire planet.

“The significant investment of close to $53 million in taxpayer funds, confirmed in tonight’s Budget, into the flailing fossil fuel industry is not only fiscally irresponsible, but a treacherous act against our Pacific neighbours whose existence depends on us taking serious action against climate change.

“With China recently making a significant pledge to be carbon neutral by 2060, Australia is becoming increasingly isolated on this issue and risks undermining its position in the region.”

“What’s more, this support for the gas sector is against the wishes of the Australian public. A recent national poll released by Oxfam showed just 14% Australian voters support the Government prioritising taxpayer funds for the gas industry to rebuild the economy over other sectors.

“The market has made clear the lack of viability of fossil fuels through their reluctance to fund gas projects. Subsidising an industry that, according to the ACCC, has been ripping off Australians, is abhorrent, nonsensical and against the national interest.”

“A briefing paper released by Oxfam in July, Australia’s energy future & the recovery from COVID-19, showed gas was a very unstable foundation on which to rebuild an economy and build a better future.

“Oxfam is urging the Government to invest in economic stimulus measures that accelerate the transformation of our energy system to being powered by renewable energy, which would protect the environment and provide much-needed jobs for Australians.”

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