Anglican overseas aid (AOA), the Melbourne-based relief and development agency formerly known as Anglicord, has condemned the Federal Budget’s failure to honour a bipartisan commitment to increase Australia’s spending on foreign aid to 0.5% of Gross National Income (GNI) by 2015 as “the worst of all the broken promises”.
Ms Misha Coleman, AOA’s CEO, said the biggest concern was that the deferral of previous commitments to Africa would mean less funding for countries such as Ethiopia.
She said AOA had a long and strong commitment to the poorest of the poor in Africa, and would need to redouble its fundraising in Australia to make up the projected shortfalls in government funding.
“This Government cares more about its own political vulnerability than it does about the most vulnerable and poorest people in the world,” Ms Coleman said.
“We don’t see this is as a deferral of one year, we see it as a dismissal.
“This is the worst of all the broken promises because it’s breaking a promise to the world’s poorest.”
Other Anglican and other Christian agencies also expressed disappointment about the decision.
But two Anglican agencies dealing with need domestically, the Brotherhood of St Laurence and Benetas, welcomed assistance for their constituencies.
The Brotherhood, which was granted $56 million to enable a doubling in size of its Home Interaction Program for Parents and Youngsters (HIPPY) to 100 communities, said the Budget passed the fairness test by reducing cost-of-living pressures on low-income households, providing more assistance to highly disadvantaged job seekers and by laying a platform for reform of social infrastructure in the areas of disability and aged care.
Benetas said the Budget had paid respect to older Australians, especially those on low incomes and those who are disadvantaged.
But the foreign aid allocation drew the sharpest criticism from Christian groups.
The Chair of Micah Challenge, the Revd Paul Perini, said keeping the foreign aid promise in full and on time would have saved at least 800,000 lives in four years.
“By breaking the promise, we will be saving 250,000 fewer lives over that time,” said Mr Perini, a former senior minister at St Hilary’s Kew and now Rector of Glebe, Sydney.
Before the 2007 election that brought it to power, Labor promised to allocate 50 cents in every $100 of national income to overseas aid by 2015, a commitment shared by the Liberal-National Coalition.
But in his 8 May Budget, the Treasurer, Mr Wayne Swan, kept aid contributions at 0.35% of GNI in the coming fiscal year, and will reach 0.5% in 2016-17 – a year later than promised – in order to save $2.9 billion over the next four years.
Mr Perini said information Micah received from AusAID officials suggested that cuts would have been much deeper without the sustained campaigning of concerned Australians in the lead-up to the Budget.
The Chief Executive of World Vision Australia, the Revd Tim Costello, said the increase in aid spending of $300 million to $5.2 billion was welcome, especially amid a tight Budget in order to deliver a surplus. The aid spending could save the lives of an extra 550,000 people over four years, he said.
“It is important to acknowledge that the aid budget did increase, [and that] while this increase is less than promised, this money will make a difference in the lives of the world’s poorest,” he said.
“This is a critical time for global efforts to tackle poverty, to ensure the rate of children dying before their fifth birthday continues to fall. Yet the international financial crisis means global aid is now falling for the first time in 14 years.”
Although wealthy countries spend a small amount on aid, it was having a big impact. In the past 20 years, child deaths had dropped from 12 million to fewer than 8 million a year, a 36% fall, and aid had played a huge part in this progress.
The Managing Director of the Australian Christian Lobby, Mr Jim Wallace, said the cut was a breach of promise.
“Promises like this are noticed and do influence the way many Christians vote,” he said.
The Executive Director of the Brotherhood, Mr Tony Nicholson, said he was delighted that the Government was making a further commitment to HIPPY because it helped parents help their children on to the right path to a fulfilling and productive life in adulthood.
“A good education is the best pathway out of poverty because it lays the foundations for a rewarding working life,” Mr Nicholson said.
“A rigorous evaluation report undertaken last year for the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations… found that HIPPY can close the ‘school readiness’ gap between disadvantaged children and other children. When children started the program, their literacy and numeracy skills were on average up to 30 per cent below the Australian norm. But after two years of HIPPY, that gap closed.”
On other measures, Mr Nicholson said expansion of child-care fee assistance would make a big difference for single parents in getting back into work.
“While we would rather have seen a more substantial rise in the Newstart allowance than that contained in the new supplementary allowance, if choices have to be made in a Budget containing significant social expenditure initiatives, in a growing economy, the Government has made the right decision to focus on jobs and people’s ability to get them,” he said.
“After all, that’s what unemployed people aspire to. Irrespective of the adequacy of Newstart, they don’t aspire to be part of an unemployed underclass.’’
He said the $350 million for a blitz on waiting lists and expected moves towards a universal dental scheme would help turn around the one million work days and 600,000 school days lost annually because of poor dental health, which cost $660 million in lost productivity.
Ms Sandra Hills, the CEO of Anglican aged care provider Benetas, said Australia’s ageing population would benefit directly from the significant investment of $3.7 billion towards aged care reform.
“The focus on improving aged care in Australia demonstrates respect for older people and their carers, but there are still many unanswered questions about the proposed changes to the aged care funding structures around adequate investment in the sector,” she said.
Anglicare Victoria’s CEO, Mr Paul McDonald, welcomed the State Government’s $336 million dollar Budget pledge to help support children in crisis in its Budget on 1 May.
“Money to reform the child protection workforce, the pledge to increase placements in Therapeutic Residential Care and the establishment of a new Children’s Court at Broadmeadows are good steps in the right direction,” he said.