New aid funding figures show the Coalition’s cuts have fallen most heavily on the countries of southeast and East Asia.
These cuts directly undermine Australia’s interests in a prosperous, stable and secure region.
The Morrison Government’s Pacific Step Up has come at the expense of a Southeast Asian Step Down.
Australia’s development relationships in Southeast and East Asia have seen annual development assistance cut by $384.7 million, or 29.8 per cent, since 2014-15.
A week after the visit of Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo to Australia, we learn that aid to Indonesia has been cut in half.
We should be investing in the people of Indonesia, yet we have cut aid for health programs by a massive 86 per cent and education by 57 per cent. This is hurting our relationship with one our most crucial friends.
Aid to Vietnam has also been cut in half, while assistance to the Philippines, Laos and Cambodia has been cut by a third.
If the Morrison Government is serious about promoting a stable and prosperous Indo-Pacific region, it cannot walk away from Southeast Asia.
It’s no wonder that former intelligence chief Allan Gyngell warned that Australia had ‘dropped the bundle’ in using the aid program to engage with key partners.
Aid for countries in South and West Asia has also been cut by $195.3 million annually, or 42.3 per cent, while assistance for Africa and the Middle East has been cut by $188.4 million, or 48.5 per cent, over the last five years.
We’ve known that the Coalition has cut $11.8 billion in foreign aid but this is the first time we have discovered who has borne the brunt of the cuts.
Alarmingly the figures show that Australia’s annual assistance for education in all developing countries has been slashed by $430 million, or 41 per cent, while spending on health is down by $260.8 million or 32.3 per cent since 2014-15.
Supporting education is vital to achieving gender equality and preventing violent extremism in our region.
And the recent outbreak of COVID-19 shows the importance of building lasting infrastructure and partnerships to deal with regional health challenges.
The women and children of some of Australia’s most important neighbours are suffering.
Even within the Pacific region we are seeing some nations losing direct funding.
How can the Pacific Step Up be effective if we cut aid to Vanuatu by 42 per cent or aid to Samoa by 14 per cent?
Cutting health assistance to Samoa by 36 per cent in the aftermath of its measles epidemic raises questions about whether the Morrison Government is responding to the needs of Australia’s Pacific friends.
The Morrison Government’s ongoing review of aid policy will be nothing but window dressing if it fails to address the impact of the Coalition’s aid cuts on Australia’s national interests.
Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra.