Australian Government aid funding cuts a disappointment

21 Jan 2014   |   Blog

Tags:  development, Aid, Australian Government   |   1 comment

Fighting poverty, both material and spiritual, building peace and constructing bridges: these, as it were, are the reference points for a journey that I want to invite each of the countries here present to take up."
- Pope Francis, 22 March 2013

For half a century Caritas Australia has walked in solidarity alongside those women, men and children most vulnerable to extreme poverty and injustice. Our programs in more than 35 countries are made possible through the generosity of the Australian public. Public support for the work of Caritas is bolstered by its partnership with the Australian Government. That is now 40 years old.

In the last year alone, our partnership with the Government has enabled Caritas Australia to reach more than 1.1 million people across 20 countries, changing the futures of some of the most marginalised communities in the Pacific, Asia, Latin America and Africa.

Through our partnership with Government, Caritas has leveraged its substantial public support to improve and save lives; to promote social and economic prosperity and to enable citizens to fully partake in community life. We have also developed community resilience in the face of natural disasters.

One example of positive outcomes resulting from this partnership with the Australian Government can be seen in Bangladesh. Caritas has supported more than 1 million people in 519 villages to increase their family incomes by 45-70%. At the same time, the percentage of families that can afford three meals a day has risen from 36% in 2005 to 100%.

Closer to home in Oecusse, which is a small and isolated community in Timor Leste, the Caritas agriculture and food security program reduced the number of ‘hunger months’ experienced by these poor communities from four months per year, to just one month each year. Like most of our programs, substantial time in building mutual respect with local communities is at the heart of this success. That, in turn, relies on funding predictability from partners like the Australian Government.

So, Caritas Australia is disappointed with the Government’s decision to cut about $650 million from its official aid program in the 2013/14 financial year. For Caritas itself, this unforseen, mid-year cut to our current four year contract has caused significant strain in meeting our commitments to some of the communities we work with. However, we have identified a range of administrative measures to enable us to honour our commitments to those communities this financial year.

We are also keen to work with the Government in its efforts to enhance effectiveness benchmarks and to ensure Australia continues to deliver a leading aid program.

We urge the Australian Government to re-establish a sound basis for effective long-term partnership through its budget planning for the next four years. We are also keen to work with the Government in its efforts to enhance effectiveness benchmarks and to ensure Australia continues to deliver a leading aid program.

We fully recognise the Government’s need to address the current imbalance between federal revenue and expenditure. At the same time, we recall the Liberal party’s proud record over 60 years of engagement on international matters beyond Australia’s immediate region. It has initiated or supported the dispatch of 31 separate Australian peace-keeping forces beyond our immediate region; initiated the first Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting and played a critical role in galvanising international support for sanctions against South Africa’s apartheid regime. So, Australia comes to its chairing role of the Group of 20 this year with credentials as a constructive middle power on the world stage.

As the G20 Chair, Australia has the opportunity to show its leadership to not only improve important trade and investment flows, as indicated by Prime Minister Abbott, but also to promote the kinds of investment by rich countries which help many millions of people to be able to lift themselves out of poverty.

As Bill Gates said this week “foreign aid not only saves lives but also lays the groundwork for lasting, long-term economic progress”. Countries like Malaysia, Thailand, Brazil, Mexico and many others demonstrate how much can be achieved with such assistance over time. Drawing on our long national history of international engagement, Australia can use its current leadership role to promote improved peace and prosperity through expanded official development assistance.

Caritas urges the Government to see Australia’s international contribution in this light and boost its overall aid funding commitment for the next four years. Australia’s Catholic Bishops called on the Government last year to exercise their responsibilities “not merely in our country’s narrow interests, but in the spirit of the common good of all humanity. Australia cannot claim these roles in world leadership if it has not shown that we are willing to act in the interests of the poorest and most marginalised within our shores, in our region and worldwide." (Lazarus at Our Gate Social Justice Statement, p14)

Paul O’Callaghan

Chief Executive Officer,
Caritas Australia
Paul O'Callaghan

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