Caritas Australia deeply concerned by proposed $4.5 billion cut to foreign aid

logo_caritas_headerMedia Release, September 5, 2013.

Caritas Australia, the Catholic Church’s international aid and development agency, has expressed deep disappointment and concern over the proposed Coalition plan to cut $4.5 billion from Australia’s foreign aid program over the next four years.

This is the latest blow to Australia’s foreign aid program, which has experienced a string of cuts, diversions and delays over the past two years.

“Australian politicians continue to treat life-saving overseas aid dollars like a blank cheque to help balance the books for domestic policies,” said Caritas Australia Acting CEO Helen Forde.

“Australian foreign aid saves lives. It is not a treasure chest to be raided to help make domestic savings when politicians feel like it.

“We are extremely disappointed at this announcement, particularly given that it’s come at a symbolic time as Australia has taken over the presidency of the UN Security Council.”

Ms Forde said the aid cuts would damage Australia’s credibility internationally and were out of step with global norms and OECD donor countries.

“The proposed cuts by the Coalition effectively take dollars that help feed families, strengthen marginalised communities, provide opportunities, and transform thousands of lives every year so they can build more roads,” Ms Forde said.

The proposed cuts by the Coalition effectively take dollars that help feed families, strengthen marginalised communities… so they can build more roads.”
Helen Forde, Caritas Australia Acting CEO
“This is not the right thing to do.”

During the last federal election, both major parties made commitments to increasing Australia’s foreign aid program. This included increasing foreign aid to 0.5% of Gross National Income (GNI) by 2015. Over the past 18 months, however, both parties have moved away from these commitments, with multiple delays and cuts to Australian aid being announced by the Government.

“In 2010, both major parties committed to raise foreign aid to 0.5% of national income – 50 cents in every 100 dollars by 2015. In this election campaign both major parties have backed off this commitment, with the latest proposal by the Coalition offering no deadline to deliver on this international obligation,” said Ms Forde.

“Under the proposed plan, by 2016-17, Australian aid will only represent 0.32% of GNI. We ask the Coalition to reverse its decision and announce a timetable to achieving 0.5% of GNI.

“Australia is commended internationally for our strong economy and generous spirit.

As well as heading the UN Security Council, Australia will soon take over as Chair of the G20 in the lead up to the 2014 summit in Australia. With these key global responsibilities, and while all eyes are on us in the lead up to the election, our leaders once again propose to raid the aid budget, break global commitments, and tarnish our international reputation.

“Australian people overwhelmingly support a generous and effective aid program. Australian aid helps protect the dignity of women, men and children most vulnerable to extreme poverty and injustice.”

Since 1990, Australian aid has been incredibly effective at saving lives. In 2011-2012, over 10,000 people in Papua New Guinea gained access to lifesaving HIV medication, while 166,274 children were enrolled in school across the Pacific.

“This $4.5 billion could save up to 450,000 lives. It’s time that Australian politicians recommitted themselves to a generous, strong and effective aid program. An aid program that not only meets our international promises and obligations, but that centres on our world’s most vulnerable.” said Ms Forde.

Media contact: Nicole Clements 0408 869 833 or nicolec@caritas.org.au.