I’ve just returned from ‘early voting’ in my country’s federal election at the Australian Consulate voting booth in New York. This Saturday, the Liberal Party, the conservative side of Australian politics, is predicted to win government. Some say it is the new start the country needs after the most extraordinary and tumultuous period in Australia’s recent political, and the progressive Labor party’s, history. Some say the potential change of government will put Australia back years, even decades.
In the event the Liberals are elected to power, under the leadership of ‘Prime Minister Tony Abbott’, they have announced they will cut scheduled foreign aid increases and have it grow with inflation. This announcement equates to a reduction of more than $4 billion in aid — also called ‘savings’. The Liberals have been clear that aid savings will not instead be spent on homelessness, child protection or literacy at ‘home’. Instead, it has said it will be spent on more roads in regional Australia; road projects that are likely also to be helped by the announced cutting of rail projects (Many people in regional areas will tell you it is the rail, not roads, that need investment and attention).
The Treasurer-in-waiting, Joe Hockey, has said Australia will be more generous with aid when the economy is in better condition.
Imagine living in a third world country with no clean water, and hearing that a country that uses clean water to flush toilets, can’t be more generous with aid until their economy is in better condition?
There are many other cuts outlined in the document — abolishing the School Kids Bonus, cutting legal aid funding by 20 per cent, re-phasing Water Buybacks from four to six years, cutting Metro rail funding in Melbourne, cutting Cross River rail funding in Brisbane. However, the foreign aid hit seems to appeal to the insular ‘charity starts at home’ view, which often means, ‘I don’t care about poor people far away from me’, so it is an easy ‘saving’ for the Liberals. And the reality is, children in PNG, Sri Lankan, Indonesian villages, and families in Zaatari don’t vote, so those who suffer don’t really have a voice.
Of course there are also increased spends outlined by the Liberals. But here is what doesn’t make sense to me: if a government can afford to give $200 vouchers to people about to marry, and pay someone earning $150K in their job, $75K to have a baby, why then can’t they afford to be a decent global citizen, equal to their peers?
As a percentage of gross national income (GNI), Australia is behind both Ireland and Spain in aid spending — two countries experiencing dire economic circumstances at present. Yes we give, but there is far more that we could be doing at a time in history when we are in a comfortable position in the world.
Standard & Poor’s recently re-confirmed Australia’s AAA credit rating, and cited public policy stability, economic resilience, and flexible fiscal and monetary policy. When one of the wealthiest nations in the world, the country Downunder that escaped a recession in the global financial crisis, decides to cut budgets that are aimed for the most vulnerable in our community — and yes, as far as I am concerned, overseas is in our community because the world is smaller than ever before — there is something disastrous, sad, and morally wrong.
Sometimes I wonder if Australians understand just how spoilt they are.
Here is a link to the video of the song ‘The Lucky Country’, all about Australia.