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Australia slips in generosity ranking

  • 23 May 2014

Australians are a generous bunch. Every year, almost two million households donate to the work of Australian aid and development agencies. Among 5.4 million Catholics nationwide, around 90 per cent of parishes and 70 per cent of schools support Caritas Australia’s work with the children, women and men most vulnerable to poverty and injustice.

While Australians readily reach into their own pockets to protect human rights and dignity around the world, they also expect that their government will continue a decades-long tradition of using the overseas aid program to help ease the burden for the world's poorest and open opportunities for their economic prosperity.

Though far from the global target to commit 0.7 per cent of gross national income (GNI) to foreign aid by 2015, Australia's aid budget increased to 35 cents (0.35 per cent) in every $100 of GNI in 2012. Both major political parties had committed to lift that level to 50 cents in every $100 of GNI. In the absence of any timeline, there is effectively no such commitment now.

Yet, for a country with a proud half century history of constructive international engagement, this federal budget marks a notable shift to a more inward-looking Australia; an Australia that heavily prioritises its own interests in our immediate neighbourhood.  The combined effect of the three successive cuts to foreign aid in less than 12 months equates to a decrease of nearly $8 billion over the next 5 years. 

Based on the budget, by 2016-17 Australia’s aid funding will fall to 0.29 per cent of GNI, which would see Australia regress from its current 13th position among OECD countries to a ranking alongside Portugal. As the 10th wealthiest country in the world, according to the IMF, this downward shift demonstrates a withdrawal from a respected, co-leadership role in international affairs.

It is worth recalling the constructive policy approach of former Coalition leaders.  Prime Ministers Fraser and Howard successfully pursued active foreign policy engagement through Australia's significant contribution to the economic transformation in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, and further afield through deepening ties with African nations too. These policies improved opportunities for trade and investment and are also recognised as having contributed to improved regional security. 

It was the Coalition that instigated for the first Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in 1971. It was Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser who played a critical international role in pressuring South Africa to dismantle its apartheid regime. And Coalition Governments