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Declining Australian Aid program ignores critical needs of vulnerable children in our region

In this year’s pre-election budget for the Coalition, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has tonight confirmed that there will be no reprieve for the Australian Aid budget.

Following what is the sixth consecutive cut to overseas development assistance (ODA), Australia is now spending just 0.2% of gross national income, a figure well below the internationally agreed target of 0.7%.

CEO of ChildFund Australia Nigel Spence said: “This is deeply concerning.

“Almost $1bn is donated by Australians annually to programs which improve the lives of children in the world’s poorest communities. It is extremely disappointing to witness the failure by government to reflect our nation’s values of generosity and compassion within its own policies.”

As the world marks the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child this year, Mr Spence warns of the increasing global uncertainty for many children in our region, and the risk that the hard-won development gains of the past three decades could be lost as communities backslide into poverty.

“Many children and families are living with great uncertainty and insecurity. Extreme poverty persists for more than 400 million people and many more are economically vulnerable. Inequality has increased and the number of displaced people is at its highest level. In the camps of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, for example, there are over 700,000 Rohingya refugees; an estimated 40 per cent of these are children.

“In Myanmar, rising income inequality means many children are still being forced to forgo their education, as families rely on the earnings their labour generates to survive.

“Closer to home, countries like Papua New Guinea are experiencing new outbreaks of polio, while at the same time dealing with the ongoing tuberculosis epidemic.

“Globally more than 1 billion children experience physical violence or exploitation, and an estimated 120 million girls are subject to sexual abuse.”

“Australia can and should do more to support children and communities within our region.”

The Australian Aid program is not only an investment in the future development of countries within our region, but an investment in Australia’s own stability and prosperity.

In addition to its value as a soft diplomacy tool, ODA supports Australia’s Foreign Policy aims. Australian aid reduces poverty, and serves Australia’s interests by fostering economic growth in the region, creating new markets, building human capital and reducing the risks of conflict and displacement.

Mr Spence added: “The Australian Aid program was once a world leader but its effectiveness has been dramatically curtailed during the last five years.

“The reality is that if Australia continues to reduce its support for vulnerable children and families in our region, their pathway out of poverty becomes almost impossible.”

Leader of the Australian Greens, Senator Richard Di Natale, announced the party’s new Peace and Demilitarisation Policy today during a speech at the Crawford School of Public Policy at the Australian National University.

With a focus on “peace and global prosperity, not more weapons and war” the Greens plan to rebuild the Australian Aid program, reduce government spending on weapons manufacturing, and increase climate finance by up to $1.6bn a year.

The new policy includes a commitment to restoring aid volumes in line with internationally agreed targets.

CEO of ChildFund Australia Nigel Spence said: “We very much welcome the Senator’s announcement to increase Australia’s overseas development assistance to 0.7% by 2030.

“Five years of consecutive cuts means that Australia is spending less on overseas development assistance than at any point in its history.

“As a member of the OECD, Australia is ranked as having the 9th largest economy. Yet when it comes to our commitment to reducing poverty, we fall to 19th place.”

Strengthening the governance of Australia’s international development program is also welcomed by ChildFund, with the Senator outlining plans to establish an independent aid agency and appoint a minister for International Development and the Pacific.

Mr Spence said: “The reinstatement of a Minister to represent the Australian Aid program and the Pacific would be a significant step to elevate the importance of overseas development within government and give dedicated attention to this important portfolio.”

ChildFund acknowledges the positive intent of the Greens policy to upskill Australia’s defence personnel so that they are better equipped for future humanitarian and peacekeeping missions “given that climate change looms as a threat multiplier and an ongoing trigger for instability and humanitarian crises”. But ChildFund also urges caution in order to avoid the risk of the militarisation of aid.

Mr Spence added: “As we now enter a period of intense election campaigning, ChildFund urges all sides of politics to work together to ensure we build bipartisan support of what is one of Australia’s greatest assets.

“Poverty reduction, increased prosperity, stronger democracies and greater peace and stability – this is the impact that Australian Aid can have, for Australians at home as well as vulnerable children and families living in poverty.”