Pacific Shuffle leaves behind children in need

Australia’s largest humanitarian organisation World Vision has criticised the Federal Budget’s approach to aid, saying the government has shunned its responsibility to the world’s most vulnerable children.

Despite a $7.1bn budget surplus, the 2019-20 budget has plunged Australia further down the international aid rankings by continuing the freeze of an already depleted aid budget until 2022-23, when re-indexation will recommence.

World Vision Australia CEO Claire Rogers said the government has dressed up a new funding announcement in the Pacific as a boost to aid when it’s no more than a reallocation of funds from a cannibalised aid budget.

“This is not a Pacific step-up; it is a Pacific shuffle,” said Ms Rogers.

“The Government is shuffling money around the aid budget to make it look like it is bolstering development cooperation, but this could mean other communities are left behind.

“Australia’s increased involvement in the Pacific region should not come at the expense of

withdrawing from other parts of the world. It is unfair and strategically short-sighted.”

Ms Rogers is concerned funding for grants committed to the Government’s Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific operational from July 1, could be taken from aid supporting vulnerable communities in countries in South East Asia.

She said the government had failed to restore Australia’s reputation as a generous nation by not increasing its aid contribution this year.

“If the Government was serious about stepping up in the Pacific, it would show true leadership and invest additional funds in the region and grow the aid budget overall this year,” she said.

“Funding for infrastructure development shouldn’t come at the expense of current programs.

“Using existing aid funds for the new infrastructure investment bank would be robbing Peter to pay Paul. It would mean that life-saving development assistance to children and families in need in places like South East Asia could be diverted to fund Pacific infrastructure projects. The truth is that the Government can afford to do both.

“There is a need for the major parties to demonstrate real foreign policy leadership and make a bi-partisan commitment to increase aid by 10 per cent each year, to bring Australia’s contribution back into line with international standards.”

Any infrastructure projects funded by the new loan facility should reduce poverty, and be climate resilient, gender sensitive and compatible with other community development projects for the most impact, Ms Rogers said.

She added it was “extremely disappointing” that the government was still failing in this year’s budget to meet the commitment it made in the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper to increase humanitarian assistance to $500m each year to address crises and conflicts. The $500m figure will not be met until next year’s budget, almost two years after it was first announced.

“Australia’s humanitarian aid makes a critical contribution to alleviating suffering around the world and needs to be scaled up now,” she said.

In a glimmer of good news, the government has ended its freeze on indexation of the aid budget and tied it to CPI from 2022-23 onwards.

But it’s apparent the aid funding freeze will continue for now after the government failed to increase its aid contribution over the next three years.

“News that indexation will be reinstated in four years’ time is welcome, but long overdue,” Ms

Rogers said.

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