Australia no longer a global Good Samaritan


Vanuatu Cyclone Pam destruction

It’s a pity that Australia’s ongoing emergency aid to people in acute need in other nations was tainted by the Prime Minister’s Aceh remark earlier this year.

In February Tony Abbott said that Indonesia should ‘reciprocate’ for Australia’s $1 billion aid package after the 2004 tsunami by sparing the lives of death row inmates Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. The extensively reported comment caused immediate offence to Indonesians, but more importantly damaged our reputation as a global Good Samaritan.

What are we going to do now that Vanuatu has been devastated by Cyclone Pam? The people and government need our help but they may wonder what strings are attached to our $5 million initial commitment and promised follow up assistance in the form of medical staff and rescue personnel.

There’s not a lot we can do in the short term, other than hope that the Prime Minister might lead us in some national soul-searching about our humanitarian obligations and what it means to reach out to other nations in need with a spirit of generosity that is not disingenuous.

That is most unlikely because he is the leader of a government that has cut $11 billion from Australia’s aid budget in the last year alone. Foreign aid was the largest saving in last year’s budget and the cuts reflect what the Government, and by implication the Australian people, really think about assisting vulnerable people in other countries.

Late last year, Caritas Australia CEO Paul O’Callaghan said the decisiveness of the cuts represented a major about face for Australia, implying that we are becoming a nation that had turned in on itself and become indifferent to the needs of other nations. He suggested that we have turned away from six decades of playing a constructive leadership role in our region.

‘Every previous Coalition government has expanded Australia’s role as an international player through overseas aid and development. This has been a key reason that Australia is regarded as a significant contributor in the region and globally,’ he said.

In terms of OECD rankings. Australia’s contributions to overseas aid are now at their lowest level ever since OECD records began in 1954. Australia is the third wealthiest country on a per capita basis in the world, yet we will now slide to around 20th position as a contributor to international development.

Aside from the ‘reciprocity’ expectation articulated by the Prime Minister with regard to Aceh, and the massive aid budget cuts, the Federal Government’s ‘head in the sand’ approach to climate change further alienates us from struggling Pacific Island nations, for whom climate change is becoming an every day reality. Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale was quick to link Cyclone Pam to climate change, but the perception is that Australia does not take climate science seriously.

Unfortunately it seems that the only factor that could motivate Australia to act to restore aid to help build Pacific nations’ capacity to face challenges such as climate change is the looming threat that they will disintegrate and become failed states that pose a security threat to Australia. Giving that is based on self-interest does not generate the good will that is necessary to build the international solidarity that will benefit everybody. Australia is looking more like a pariah state than a global Good Samaritan.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.


Topic tags: Michael Mullins, foreign aid, Vanuatu, Aceh, Tony Abbott, emergency assistance, Caritas



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Existing comments

Operator, well could you help me place this call/'Cause I can't read the number that you just gave me/There's something in my eyes/You know it happens every time/I think about the love that I thought would save me (Apologies to Jim Croce). Our neighbour Vanuatu has been devastated by a Category 5 cyclone of tremendous force. Australia has been quick to send aid and much more is needed. The foreign aid budget is always vulnerable to slashing and this is short-sighted because our relationships with those who need our help are vital to mutual wellbeing.

Pam | 20 March 2015  

Since the announcement of the impending cyclone Pam, I have heard nothing about Kiribati and Tuvalu, which were said to be in its path too - perhaps because of communication difficulties. One would think our government and people have to be prepared to address the future of people who love their land, don't want to leave but may have no alternative,

Julia | 23 March 2015  

Looking forward to a comment in ES which finds even a speck of good in a conservative government while pouring no scorn on a socially orientated opposition party which promotes or supports abortion, euthanasia, same-sex marriage, workplace thuggery and a spectrum of other policies with the propensity to progressively erode Christian Western Society.

john frawley | 23 March 2015  

Australia's reputation is a product of its past actions.

David Arthur | 23 March 2015  

Australia is obviously no longer a global Good Samaritan or a climate change carer, But what about Australians — individuals and businesses too? Are we, in numbers, showing the way to our politicians? Or is it just the minority?

Gavan | 23 March 2015  

1. In my Bible, the Good Samaritan doesn't treat the beaten man's wounds with wine and oil forced off other people. Nor does he pay the innkeeper with other peoples' money. Whatever one thinks of the benefits of government foreign aid, let's not kid ourselves that politicians are being "Good Samaritans" splashing around other people's hard-earned wealth. 2. What do I think of Government Foreign Aid? That, except for emergency aid, it has been pretty much a disaster for the recipient countries, propping up corrupt and vicious regimes, wiping out fledgling businesses, paying out rent-seekers, and locking economies into poverty. Economists are increasingly acknowledging the work of Lord Peter Bauer ("Dissent on Development", etc) who, alone and derided, exposed with meticulous research the disastrously counterproductive effects of government aid. If Lord Bauer's thesis is correct as many now accept, then, excepting emergencies, a Much Better Samaritan would, out of consideration for the recipient countries, refrain from Foreign Aid altogether.

HH | 30 March 2015  

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