This article is a part of Right Now’s May edition, ‘Human Rights and Money’.
By Madolyn Smith
Since the Abbott Government announced its Budget on the 13 May 2014, social media has been flooded with complaints, outrage and propaganda. Anyone who has searched #ThreeWordBudget, or even the more mainstream #auspol, will have seen countless streams of emotional speculation about how the proposed changes will affect our everyday lives.
Less visible is a discussion of how the Budget will affect the 757 million people living in extreme poverty in the Asia Pacific. Most of this group don’t have access to clean water, let alone the internet.
For over 75 years, Australia has assisted its neighbours through an extensive aid program, that oversaw the elimination of Polio in the Pacific and assisted over 19 million children attend school. A 2012 review of the aid program stated that we “provide aid because a fair go for all is part of our national character—and that fair go extends to the 1.4 billion members of the human family who still live in grinding poverty.”
But the May 13th announcement that $7.6 billion will be cut from Australia’s international aid budget has prompted many within the international aid community to question how Australia will meet its development commitments.
In a statement to the Australian Financial Review on May 15th, Dr Norman Gillespie, UNICEF Australia’s Chief Executive, said that “among OECD countries providing aid, Australia is now set to be the least generous, allocating just 0.29 per cent of gross national income. ”
One of the proposed budget cuts was the decision not to increase international aid in line with inflation. Save the Children, one of Australia’s largest aid and development agencies, says this could have helped “build 1,400 classrooms, enrol an extra 160,000 children in school, provide 140,000 PNG children with nutrition supplements and deliver 50,000 more babies with skilled birth attendants.”
Importantly, aid cuts are not exclusive to this Government or this Budget. In December 2012, the Gillard Government announced significant aid cuts of $375.1 million with a report by the Australian Council For International Development outlining more than 14 specific programs that could not run as a result of the funding lapse. These included, but were not limited to, a violence against women program in Cambodia, Philippine and Cambodian maternal health programs, education initiatives in Indonesia, Laos, the Solomon Islands, and Kiribati and health programs in Timor Leste and Pakistan.
Although the report focused on cuts to AusAID programs, it also highlighted the role that non-profit organisations have in implementing aid programs abroad. A closer look at Save the Children’s 2013 Financial Report, for example, illustrates just how much some aid organisations rely on government grants and funding. In 2013 alone the organisation’s largest revenue source was the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), at just over $39.3 million. In comparison, monetary donations from non-government entities accounted for approximately $27 million.
Oxfam Australia’s 2013 Financial Report tells a slightly different story. Whilst Oxfam received just over $25 million in government and non-government grants, by far the largest revenue source was the community, at over $42.9 million. Similarly, public donations and emergency appeals also outranked government funding for Caritas Australia. Even so, government grants made up at least a quarter of financial revenue for both organisations.
Whilst the 2014 Budget cuts do not necessarily mean that these organisations will face funding reductions, it is important to realise the significant impacts that grants have on the operation of aid and development in our own backyard. As the December 2012 reductions illustrated, every dollar has a real and felt impact on some of the most impoverished people in the world.
Madolyn Smith is from Sydney, Australia. She is a consultant at an international organisation and contributes to crisis reporting projects at the European Journalism Centre.