It was a night of few surprises for Australia’s development sector as Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Treasurer Scott Morrison delivered their first budget to the Australian people for the period 2016-17.
As forecasted, the Turnbull government cut Australia’s official development assistance by another 224 million Australian dollars ($173 million), resulting in $AU11 billion in cumulative budget cuts over the last few years. The new aid budget has been called Australia’s least generous ever.
“We have to remain hopeful that this will be the last cut and that our country can restore the proud bipartisan support for aid,” said Paul O’Callaghan, CEO of Caritas Australia. “Certainly, existing cuts have already damaged our global reputation, and aid is at its lowest level ever, so we’d hope all parties could see that there’s no more room to cut.”
Following the budget, the sector will turn their focus towards the looming federal election and the push will be for the government to reverse cuts and reinvest in the aid program.
Despite a persistently gloomy budget outlook, Australian development organizations are pushing for greater leadership and investment in foreign aid.
“The NGO sector remains unified and will continue to advocate for more aid that has the biggest impact on people from the poorest parts of the world in the lead-up to the federal election,” Tony Milne, campaign director of the Campaign for Australian Aid told Devex.
Foreign aid was not mentioned during the treasurer’s budget speech, although there were references to multinational tax avoidance and disability insurance. The budget also showed a surprising link between aid and the country’s cyber security agenda, allocating $AU4 million over four years for cyber capacity building projects in the Indo-Pacific region.
While climate change did not garner its own line item, the government will contribute $AU2.3 million to a partnership between Australia and Germany’s aid agency GIZ, to assist Pacific island countries in preparing business cases for the Green Climate Fund.
Here are some other winners and losers.
1. Innovation. Despite $224 million being stripped from overseas development between financial years 2015-16 and 2016-17, allocation for the Innovation Fund, including InnovationXchange, has increased from $AU20 million to $AU50 million
2. Emergency and humanitarian aid. Australia’s fund to support international emergencies rose from $AU120 million to $AU130 million. Global Humanitarian Partnerships will also get a $AU700,000 boost.
3. Fiji. Australia’s response to Cyclone Winston has also resulted in a 33 percent increase in funding to Fiji to $AU76.9 million.
4. Nepal. Similar to Fiji, the impact of the earthquake in Nepal has resulted in an 8 percent boost to overseas development to $AU34 million.
5. Laos. Laos will see a 7 percent increase in funding to $AU40.7 million.
6. Vanuatu, Kiribati and Samoa. These three countries will each benefit from 3 percent increases in funding totaling $AU3.8 million combined.
7. Women and girls. The Gender Equality Fund received a 10 percent bump in funding from $AU50 million to $AU55 million showing continued support for one of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop's focus areas.
1. Bhutan. This region will see a 35 percent reduction in aid funding from Australia from $AU11.2 million to $AU7.3 million.
2. Niue, Tokelau and Cook Islands. Despite the risks of climate change for these regions, funding has been reduced to Niuw and Tokelau by 24 percent to $AU3.1 million and to the Cook Islands by 15 percent to $AU3.4 million.
3. Pakistan. The South Asian country will see a 16 percent reduction in funding from $AU55.7 million to $AU47 million.
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