ChildFund Australia CEO calls for rethink on Government’s aid budget decision

ChildFund Australia CEO Nigel Spence has today criticised the Government’s plans to take hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid away from developing countries for domestic purposes.

Foreign Minister Bob Carr confirmed to Ten News that $375 million will be diverted from foreign aid programs to cover asylum seeker costs in Australia. Senator Carr told Channel Ten the spending decision was within OECD guidelines and money spent on refugees within Australia was legitimate aid.

Mr Spence said: “We are surprised and dismayed by this sudden turn of events. There are other ways for the Government to balance its books than retracting funds that were intended for the world’s poorest people.

“Cutting the aid budget will be a severe setback for many of the world’s most vulnerable children. Since 1990 we’ve seen global poverty halved, the number of children dying each year has dropped from 12 million to less than 7 million, and primary school enrolments are up. We need adequate and predictable financing to maintain this momentum.

“This decision also shows the government is out of touch with the Australian public. ChildFund surveys over the past three years have found consistent support from the Australian public for increased aid spending. In 2012, almost half (46%) of all Australians surveyed said aid spending should increase, while 38% said it should stay the same. Only 8% said aid spending should decrease.”

Mr Spence added that the decision to cut overseas aid is at odds with the Prime Minister’s role as co-Chair of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Advocacy Group.

“Now is not the time to step back from commitment to the MDGs,” Mr Spence said. “Progress that has been made will be lost if aid funding is not maintained. The proposed cuts will be felt hardest by the poorest children and families around the world. I urge the Prime Minister to honour Australia’s commitment to the world’s poor.”

The 9th Asia-Europe People’s Forum, which concluded last week in Vientiane, Laos, brought together over 1,000 participants from people’s organisations, civil society and activist movements from across Asia and Europe to reflect on four major themes:

  • universal social protection and access to essential services;
  • food sovereignty and sustainable land and natural resources management;
  • sustainable energy production and use; and
  • just work and sustainable livelihoods.

ChildFund Laos played a central role in supporting the success of AEPF 9, including a lengthy and participatory consultation process that involved youth across the country.

ChildFund Australia International Program Director, Mark McPeak, highlighted the importance of the Declaration’s embrace of the active participation of children and young people in decision-making that affects them. He said: “For ChildFund, it is crucial that the voices of children, young people, and the most vulnerable be heard to ensure that more just, people-centered services and development takes place.”

The Declaration will now be shared with governments across Asia and Europe, with the aim that it will be shared with heads of state and other government representatives at the upcoming Asia Europe Meeting (ASEM), to be held in Vientiane in November.