Australia is one of the richest nations in the world, at arguably the richest point in our history. Yet our commitment to foreign aid is declining. The Coalition government plans to cut aid funding by $1.4 billion per year or 33 per cent by 2017-18.
To put our aid budget in perspective, however, we need to consider it as a portion of our Gross National Income (GNI). This allows us to measure how generous we are and compare our current aid budget with previous years and other countries.
By this measure, our aid budget has hit its lowest level since 1974, when our official overseas development assistance (ODA) program began. In 1974 we allocated 0.45 per cent of our income to aid, now it is just 0.22 per cent. Long gone is the Howard era bipartisan support for the Millennium Development Goals, and their target of 0.7 per cent of ODA/GNI.
Since 1974 there have been ten foreign ministers. The recent cuts give current foreign minister Julie Bishop the dubious honour of being the minister to oversee the largest drop in aid spending to GNI.
Minister Bishop had plenty of competition for this title. Six of her predecessors oversaw a decline in the aid budget relative to GNI, but none came close to her new record.
Worse still, Minister Bishop’s cuts were not made strategically. Rather than cutting underperforming programs and focusing on successful ones, an across-the-board cut of 40 per cent has been made to 25 aid programs. These include country specific programs such as Indonesia and Afghanistan as well as regional and multilateral aid programs, such as UNICEF and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
With Minister Bishop’s reappointment as foreign minister in the Turnbull cabinet, she has an opportunity to boost our aid budget and avoid being remembered as Australia’s stingiest foreign minister.