Amidst all the big announcements in this year’s Federal Budget it wasn’t easy to find too much information about what the Government is planning for Australia’s aid budget in 2020-21. And even if you could find it, there are some quirks this year that made it a bit harder to understand. So, we put together this short snapshot to help you make sense of what’s going up, what’s going down and what it all means.
First, the good news… For the first time in 8 years, the funding that Australia sends overseas to support international development is (slightly) increasing! That’s real cause for celebration and to acknowledge the import work of campaigns like End COVID For All in encouraging our Government to step up to its responsibilities to support our global neighbours. The increase comes in the form of a special COVID-19 Recovery Fund to be run over 2 years with a $304.7 million budget. It is dedicated to fighting the COVID pandemic for our close neighbours in the Pacific and Timor-Leste. It’s smaller than we know the region needs, but it’s a clear step in the right direction and that’s something we’ve been waiting a long time to see!
But here’s where it gets a bit more complicated. While this fund is earmarked to help our neighbours respond to COVID, the Government is not actually calling it ODA (Official Development Assistance – the technical name for ‘Aid’). The reality is that we don’t yet know a lot about their reasons for not counting this new money as aid. So, while it is a welcome investment, it’s important that we keep watching to make sure it’s spent well… and keep sharing with our own communities about the value and importance of aid so the Government is encouraged to be proud of Australian aid.
What all of this means is that the official aid budget continues to decline and will be $44 million smaller in 2020-21 than it was last year. Many of the regions with the highest levels of poverty and the greatest vulnerability to COVID-19 have been the most deeply affected by these cuts.
Our aid budget to Sub-Saharan African, the Middle East and South Asia is already at such low levels that changes show up as big percentage moves. Nevertheless, the changes are again striking. Funding to Sub-Saharan Africa is down 48%, to the Middle East is down 61%, and to Bangladesh is down 21%. At same time there are small increases in funding to the Pacific and the budget remains flat in South-East Asia.
What can we do in response to the budget?
We know that the COVID crisis won’t end for anyone until it ends for everyone. While we celebrate our government’s commitment to support our near neighbours with the COVID-19 Recovery Fund there is still a lot of work for us to do to keep making the case for a generous Australia that stands with its neighbours both regionally and globally.
It is vital that we continue to show our support for our global neighbours and by letting our federal MPs and Senators know that we want to play our part in the global COVID recovery. So far more than 25,000 Australians and 200+ faith, health, business and civil society organisations have come together to show their support for the Australian Government to step up and support vulnerable nations during the COVID pandemic.
You can join them by signing the pledge to End COVID For All and encouraging your church to participate through our church toolkit where we have resources to share with your congregation and contact your MP.