The cost of cuts

Rough crucifix.

Cuts to overseas foreign aid.

As a nation, we are becoming increasingly myopic. Our focus on self-interest no matter the cost hit a new time low this week when the Federal Treasurer announced new cost saving measures.

Once again, our global responsibilities took a pounding. Early in December the Senate passed amendments to the Migration and Maritime Powers Act allowing the Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, to act contrary to international law. On Monday Joe Hockey announced a further $3.7 billion cut to Australia’s overseas aid budget, bringing the total cuts to $11.3 billion since the Coalition came to power last year.

The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) described the decision as taking ‘a wrecking ball to Australia’s aid program’. Plan International accused the Treasurer of treating the aid budget as ‘a piggy bank to be raided to plug its fiscal holes’. Oxfam Australia used a similar analogy, suggesting the government regarded foreign aid as an ATM with which ministers can make easy withdrawals ‘without due consideration of the long-term impact’.

These claims are not just hyperbole. To give some insight into how $3.7 billion could be spent (recognising that it is distributed across numerous programs run by AusAID and professional  and dedicated not-for-profit aid and development agencies), Oxfam provided a possible breakdown:

That is enough to purchase over 240 million life-saving hygiene kits for communities affected by Ebola. It is enough for around 74 million sets of basic humanitarian provisions for families affected by natural disasters. And, $3.7 billion could provide over 80 million families with clean, safe drinking water in Africa.

How much is our nation spending over Christmas? The Australian Retailers Association has predicted that over the six week pre-Christmas lead-in, Australians will spend $45 billion. Crosslight understands that people need to keep consuming to keep our economy buoyant. However, the figures can give a little context to the Government’s willingness to slash funds earmarked for the poorest people of the world.

We don’t make enough noise to protest such decisions. Our focus remains insular and self-serving. 132 Pakistani school children were gunned down in an attack by the Taliban overnight. The media has reported it, but it will disappear from our newsfeeds quickly.

The international aid and development community is calling on the government and opposition to support formal oversight of the overseas aid budget.  Legislation would ensure that cuts to foreign aid could be properly reviewed and monitored, instead of the current easy way of accessing short term funding shortfalls.

As Ian Wishart, CEO of Plan International said, “It is impossible to understand how these latest cuts ‘take the long view’. What sort of a legacy is the government leaving for the governments that will inevitably follow? How will they repair the damage being done right now?”

We are a blinkered nation. We have turned our back on climate change initiatives. We have turned our back on frightened people fleeing for their lives from homelands in political disarray. And now we have turned our back on the poor, stopping children from realising their full potential because education, health and agricultural programs will be closed down because of loss of funding.

Please make your voices heard. This is not the nation we have been. Can we change our government from defining whom we are becoming?

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