When Hugh Evans took to the stage at the World Bank spring meetings on Thursday in front of top development personalities like the bank’s president Jim Yong Kim and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, it seemed like a golden opportunity for the Australian founder and CEO of The Global Poverty Project, a New York-based anti-poverty advocacy group.
Not only did Evans blast Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s decision to break its promise by slashing the foreign aid budget and calling it “indecent,” he also got the international development community to pay close attention to Australia’s official development assistance policy.
“As an Australian, I’m proud of the reputation Australia has built for itself on the world stage in recent years through a generous and effective aid program,” Evans said during the panel. “We don’t want this single act of political indecency to undo the great work Australia has done to help end extreme poverty.”
Local and international humanitarian groups dependent on Australia’s funding have expressed their disappointment after partial details of the aid cuts were released in January. Concerns about the lack of clarity as well as Abbott’s breaking of his pre-election promise were raised by these organizations.
Although increased initiatives to consult and engage these stakeholders were carried out by the Australian government in the past months to gain better coordination, Evans stressed that the government has to be true to its promise and still try to meet the minimum 0.5 percent of GNI for the foreign aid budget.
This issue will soon come again to the limelight once the Australian government releases the federal budget the second week of May.
Winter is coming
Asked about the incident at the World Bank spring meetings, volunteer organization Palms Australia CEO Roger O’Halloran told Devex that Evans’ decision to attack the government over the foreign aid cuts was expected and even predictable.
“I don’t have anything to say about it. I think it’s totally predictable. I don’t think it’s going to affect Mr. Abbott and I doubt he’s going to change his mind or he’s going to be worried about Australia’s reputation in this regard,” explained the head of one of the organizations that is now receiving less funding from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, where AusAID has been integrated.
O’Halloran noted that once the federal budget is published, we may see more ODA cuts, and more aid groups may have to freeze operations — reminiscent of the grim quote “winter is coming” from the Game of Thrones series, predicting caution and requiring constant vigilance.
“I believe we will see further cuts in the budget,” he noted. “They’re likely to cut the budget if that’s the way they see forward to improve the Australian economy. They’ll probably argue that the Australian economy has to be strong [first].”
This goes back to the ongoing debate over “aid for trade” in the country.
“I think they're preparing the Australian budget with cuts in all sorts, and it's not hard to convince the Australian people that aid cuts are something necessary. If they're going to cut it, I guess it's easier for most of the population to cut overseas aid,” O’Halloran concluded.
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