The recent Federal Budget plunged Australia further into its “most insular period of international engagement in 60 years”, says the head of Caritas Australia.
CEO Paul O’Callaghan called “miserly” the decision to further reduce the country’s aid program by $141m over four years. Less than one per cent of the Federal Budget is now committed to aid and development spending, he said.
The decision follows cuts of 30 percent since 2014 and a call in March by the development assistance committee of the OECD for Australia to reverse its reduction in aid. At the same time the New Zealand government has increased its aid commitment by 30 percent, Mr O’Callaghan said.
“It’s almost as though the government thinks that nobody cares at all, but we haven’t become so miserly, really, as a nation,” he added.
“Australians really do care about these things. In total around 1.6 million Australians give regularly to overseas aid agencies.
“We’re hoping both the Labor Party and the Coalition can start to see that as part of Australia’s engagement overseas, particularly in terms of our poorer countries in our region, that this is really a very important part of who we are as a people. We have a long history of providing strong leadership on global aid efforts.”
The Federal Government’s 2017 foreign policy white paper stated that Australia was a ‘regional power with global interests … we will have to work harder to maximise our international influence’.
But Mr O’Callaghan said we are going in the opposite direction.
“Australia is stepping away from its goal of being a regional power,” he said.
“We believe as a Catholic agency that rich countries should be actively involved in international aid and development that makes a real contribution in health and livelihood issues, education, and a whole host of areas.
“In terms of the priorities for this region, the budget’s minimalist response to the acute needs of Indo-Pacific neighbours on climate change adds to the growing perception of Australia shrinking into its most insular period since the end of the Second World War.”