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One-off funding not enough for the aid budget



Working in aid and development for over 20 years, you wait with bated breath for what each federal budget will bring. The past four years have seen a series of cuts. This year seems like a good news story, with a much-needed one-off increase of $304.7 million to Timor-Leste and the Pacific for COVID-19 response and recovery.

Main image: Woman impacted by COVID-19 in Bangladesh. Photo Caritas Bangladesh

At Caritas Australia, there were cheers from the Program teams of these regions for an injection of funds that they know all too well are desperately needed. This funding is vital to support our closest neighbours to avoid the worst social and economic costs of COVID-19 and I, along with many of my colleagues, welcome it.

But, there was a trade-off. In fact, this Budget is a missed opportunity. It was a chance for the government to do something radical, to make real and defined impacts. Instead, we’ve increased funding for some regions, but at the cost of some of the most marginalised populations in the world, who have experienced years of discrimination, poverty and displacement.

There have been cuts in aid to the Middle East, to Africa and even to Bangladesh, home of the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazaar. Just read the news and you know that these regions are desperate, these regions are in crisis. We see through our work the impact of COVID-19 on these most vulnerable people. For millions, there are no safety nets — no social welfare, healthcare or even for many, running water. When households that rely on informal cash-in-hand labour lose income for the day, they don’t eat. And it is often the poorest of the poor who live in crowded conditions without access to healthcare, clean water and sanitation who are the most at risk to COVID-19.

Working with local dioceses and organisations in Timor-Leste and the Pacific region, there is no doubt that support during the pandemic is sorely needed in this region. Despite comparatively low rates of infection from the virus, the social and economic consequences are still dire. Loss of income has pushed large numbers of people into poverty, and there is risk of an increase in preventable diseases like tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria due to a lack of resources during the pandemic. Women and girls are particularly affected, as domestic violence rates intensify across the region. Thankfully, this year’s budget has committed to continue support for first responders assisting Pacific women experiencing violence.

But why has this increase come at the expense of South and West Asia, Africa and the Middle East? Why at the expense of Bangladesh, where at least one million garment factory workers have lost their jobs? The Australian government reduced funding to Bangladesh by 21 per cent, despite reports that many households are struggling to afford food after losing nearly three-quarters of their income. Funding to Africa and the Middle East was slashed even more drastically at a time when communities in these regions are most at risk of extreme poverty and hunger.


'In order to reduce global poverty, it is necessary to maintain funding for long-term development programs which create sustainable solutions that change people’s lives.'


The World Bank recently published their ‘Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2020’ report which warned that 150 million people could fall into ‘extreme poverty’ by the end of 2021 due to COVID-19 and the accompanying global recession. They predict that this will see the levels of global poverty rise for the first time in 20 years.

In order to reduce global poverty, it is necessary to maintain funding for long-term development programs which create sustainable solutions that change people’s lives. One-off funding for crises helps communities to respond, but the recovery process can take years or even decades for some countries, especially those also dealing with extreme weather like droughts, tropical cyclones or floods.

As we face a global pandemic, we must stand together as a global community and protect the most vulnerable. In his most recent encyclical Fratelli Tutti, Pope Francis urges us to remember that one person’s problems are the problems of all. It is possible to reimagine our world and rebuild our social and economic systems with the poor and most marginalised in mind. We must use this crisis as an opportunity to overcome the injustice of inequality together, and, as Pope Francis reminds us ‘to provide for the global common good’.

In the meantime, the aid and development sector will wait, again with bated breath, to see what next May brings.



Kirsty RobertsonKirsty Robertson is the CEO of Caritas Australia, the international aid and development agency of the Catholic Church in Australia.

Main image: Woman impacted by COVID-19 in Bangladesh. Photo Caritas Bangladesh


Topic tags: Kirsty Robertson, COVID-19, Caritas Australia, aid, Budget 2020, Fratelli Tutti, Bangladesh, Timor-Leste



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Existing comments

I wonder how the Bangladeshi government is accepting its responsibilities through budgeting for the common good of its people in response to Covid -19 as governments such as those of Australia and New Zealand are doing for their people.

john frawley | 20 October 2020  

The shadow Treasurer, Jim Chalmers, has been speaking post-budget about the opportunity we have for a new vision. A vision that has been revealed by the pandemic, where priorities change. Australia, even with the adverse impact the pandemic has wrought, should be looking to help in a more profound way the people who need us the most. Why do we need to be the rich, lucky country? Why not the compassionate country?

Pam | 20 October 2020  

What is "radical"? ! In this case "Radicalism" equals some thing different the Government has take radical steps , It has taken something very different steps from its ideology - This step has been taken by the FreybererSOCMo team it can't possibily taken any more any other

nick | 20 October 2020  

Compared with the greater part of the world we are, Pam.

john frawley | 21 October 2020  

Interestingly it is always the poor and most vulnerable who are the ones who suffer. Why is it so? The charity sector cries for more & more even when they have received support from the government through job keeper this year and received donations from their supporters to assist them meet the needs of the most marginalused. I think leaders need to dig deep into their charity cash reserves before crying poor. It would be the most just thing to do, especially now as the poor and the most vulnerable need your help. Diane

Diane | 21 October 2020  

Thanks, john frawley. Always, I enjoy reading your comments! Our people will become less materialistic if we can overcome our reticence with regards to increasing our aid to struggling countries, not worrying about what other rich countries are doing.

Pam | 22 October 2020  


Mary Samara-Wickrama | 24 October 2020  

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