Australians demand 0.5 percent aid spending target

Foreign aid advocates gathered on Manly Beach to form the words "Halve poverty 2015." The demonstration is to protest the Australian government's failure to deliver on its foreign aid committments. Photo by: Phil Carrick

Thousands of Australians got together on Saturday to protest the government’s failure to deliver on its foreign aid commitments and asked whoever wins the upcoming election to increase aid spending to 0.5 percent of the gross national income.

About 3,000 foreign aid advocates gathered on Manly Beach to form the words “Halve poverty 2015” with people for the message to be seen from the sky at one of Sydney’s most iconic tourist spots. 

Manly Beach is also where opposition leader and election frontrunner Tony Abbott has his constituency as MP. During the event, Mark Purcell, executive director of the Australian Council for International Development, gave a representative of the politician a petition signed by over 80,000 Australians in support of more foreign aid.

Vikki Howorth, one of the organizers of the protest, asked Abbott to keep his promise of increasing foreign aid spending to 0.5 percent of GNI and set a deadline for doing so.

“I would tell him that his electorate cares about the global poor,” she told Devex. “I would like to encourage him, or whoever the next prime minister is, to be a champion for the global poor and for an effective and generous aid program.”

Howorth added that “Australian aid works” and called on voters to compel MPs to support their cause and make Australia commit 0.7 percent of GNI to official development assistance by 2020.

Commitment delayed

Australia — one of the world’s top donors in total amount of ODA but not as a percentage of GNI — is set for a national election on Saturday, although foreign aid has not been a major campaign issue.

Under former prime minister Julia Gillard, the government first promised to reach that target in 2015, but then delayed it to 2016 last year, and finally to 2017 in May. 

Incumbent chief executive Kevin Rudd, who replaced Gillard two months ago and a staunch supporter of foreign aid, was expected to push the development agenda, and even appointed Melissa Parke as Australia’s first development minister since 1996.

Rudd however ended up cutting aid spending to pay for resettling asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea, a move that has been strongly criticized by the conservative opposition.

Abbott, favoured by the polls to replace Rudd after the vote, has promised to raise aid spending to 0.5 percent of GNI, but if elected, has only committed to setting a target after conducting a review of the country’s finances.

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About the author

  • Carlos Santamaria

    Carlos is a former associate editor for breaking news in Devex's Manila-based news team. He joined Devex after a decade working for international wire services Reuters, AP, Xinhua, EFE ,and Philippine social news network Rappler in Madrid, Beijing, Manila, New York, and Bangkok. During that time, he also covered natural disasters on the ground in Myanmar and Japan.