This speech was given by Senator Bob Day on Monday 30th November. The transcript first appeared on Open Australia.
Australia’s aid budget for 2015-16 suffered a $1 billion reduction—part of a planned total of $11.3 billion in cuts over the forward estimates. If fully implemented, this would, by 2018-19, demote Australia to the lower echelons of OECD aid contributors. In terms of our official development assistance, ODA, to gross national income, GNI, ratio, at just 0.2 per cent, in real terms, or one per cent of total government expenditure, Australia would be the least generous it has been in more than 40 years of its overseas development assistance.
Family First opposes further cuts in Australia’s aid budget, currently about $4.3 billion. We are committed to a target of 0.7 per cent of our GNI or about three per cent of total government expenditure and, once reached, to stick to that level. This should be achieved well in advance of the 2030 target year. Over the coming parliamentary term, 2016-19, our aid budget should be restored to at least $5 billion or about 0.3 per cent of our GNI to be on track towards the 0.7 per cent target. I have spoken with the foreign minister and the finance minister and will be speaking further with the government about this aim.
I recently met with three volunteers, from the Campaign for Australian Aid, giving up their time and efforts to generate the public and political commitment to a higher level of development aid funding, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region. The Australian aid budget has suffered a disproportionate share of recent cuts, some 30 per cent. For this, I do not blame the minister. I do not blame anyone. We have to take collective responsibility for the state of the budget and vote to get it in order so we can restore our aid spending. My point is, if we increase our aid spending we will see an improvement in the budget. As lowering tax rates does not decrease but increase tax revenue, so an increase in aid spending would improve the budget.
Here are some of the achievements of Australia’s aid program, for one year alone, from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s annual report: 400,000 third-world farmers to gain access to better technology; almost 900,000 women to give birth with the assistance of a skilled attendant; one million people to access basic sanitation; 2.9 million people to gain access to safe drinking water; 1.3 million children to enrol in primary school; more than 2.3 million children to be vaccinated against killer diseases; plus emergency assistance to millions of people, in 24 countries, affected by natural disasters.
The world is on the cusp of eliminating extreme poverty within a generation. The Millennium Development Goals were negotiated in 2000. Their aim was to achieve, among other things, a world that banished extreme poverty by the year 2030. The proportion of people living in extreme poverty—that is, on less than the equivalent of US$ 1.90 per day—halved between 1990 and 2010. New infections and deaths from malaria, TB and HIV–AIDShave been substantially reduced, and attendances in primary schools are now running, on average, above 90 per cent in developing countries. In 1990, at the time of the UN World Summit for Children, more than 35,000 children under five were dying, each day, from easily-preventable causes. Now, that figure is around 16,000 per day—still far too many but well down on the 35,000 in 1990.
We are, clearly, on our way towards eliminating extreme poverty, but the need is still great. Tuberculosis, TB, is a disease that still kills around 1.5 million people annually, mainly young adults in their most productive years, and is therefore a major drain on the resources of developing nations. This is especially true for our region, with its prevalence of multi-drug-resistant forms, which are much more difficult, hence expensive to treat. Diagnostic tools and treatments for TB are decades old, and we have not yet developed an effective vaccine against the disease. More than three million children are still dying, each year, as a direct or indirect result of under-nutrition. In East Timor, for example, more than 50 per cent of children are permanently stunted, physically and cognitively, due to under-nutrition. Child deaths from diseases are still alarmingly high.
Medical research funding in Australia’s aid budget has prioritised TB and malaria. Vaccines are the best value in development, and potential malaria vaccines are currently undergoing clinical trials. However, in order to maintain progress towards combating or even in eliminating some communicable diseases—for example, polio—replenishments for these very cost-effective and accountable private-public partnerships need to be increased, in the near future. This commitment to positive change must be maintained, and we cannot have effective Australian government involvement in the regional or global development aid effort without a sustained, workable level of funding for our aid budget.
December’s Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, MYEFO, is now almost upon us, and there are rumours of further cuts to Australia’s aid budget. My premise, consistent with what I have said for many years, is that we should make Australian aid the first item in the budget, not the last. Giving your first dollar brings many rewards, and Australia will benefit greatly from an increase in aid.