It’s gone too far.

In May, when the government announced the first $7.6 billion cut to aid, it became obvious they saw aid as an easy savings tool. Those in charge showed no understanding of the impact of this small part of our budget – its effect on our standing as a nation in the world.

This week, it reached unprecedented levels of human indecency. As pointed out by ANU’s Development Policy Centre, these cuts are:

The largest multi-year cuts to aid ever (33% versus the previous record of 17%)

The largest aid cuts in a single year (20% – $1 billion – in 2015-16 alone)

Taking Australian aid to its lowest level ever.

It is a shocking reality that our federal budget decision-makers cannot make the link between human rights and our nation’s prosperity and security.

The policy hypocrisy is shameful. Our leaders incur costs participating in global conventions and resolutions, only to trash the results. As an example, last month the Australian Government signed on to the G20 Communique saying:

We are committed to poverty eradication and development, and to ensure our actions contribute to inclusive and sustainable growth in low-income and developing countries…The G20 will focus on the implementation of our collective commitments. We will hold each other to account for our actions.

This week, the aid budget has been savaged for the third time in 12 months. The message is clear. Aid doesn’t matter to the Australian Government.

It was a choice they didn’t have to make. The choice now takes on global significance. It will reverberate through all our international relationships, undermining all of our existing global commitments.

To be honest, we just didn’t see this level of disrespect, ignorance and arrogance coming. Australia delivers its foreign affairs and international relations work linked to humanity and global citizenship predominantly through the aid program. This has apparently been summarily dismissed this week.

Policy evaporation is now the norm. This government does not understand how to make the most of its own investments. Development expenditure from the last decade will be lost as gains are now reversed. Our investment in long-term approaches to complex human security and rights issues will be trashed.

‘Cutting off the nose to spite the face,’ is an expression used to describe a needlessly self-destructive over-reaction to a problem. It seems this government is not only willing to do this but also to cut off its nose and lose face. I am reminded of messages from leadership training workshops I did in my 20’s where our teachers told us the difference between a manager and a leader was that managers do things right but that leaders do the right things. We expect our political leaders to do us proud in a globalised world, demonstrating courage and conviction. Addressing and tackling inequality, poverty, discrimination, exclusion, violence, exploitation, conflict, corruption, racism, nepotism… this takes leadership. The financial decision-makers in our government have this week shown a complete lack of integrity.

We now face a strategic reorientation of the aid program in dimensions we could never have imagined a year ago. What this means for IWDA is no more certain than it is for all other agencies and organisations engaged in international development work. The cuts will require much more than a shrinking of existing spending. We can expect regions, countries, sectors, partnership and research mechanisms and contracts to be dismantled or shut down entirely. Everything is threatened. The ultimate decision on what stays and what goes risks being gender blind, unable to demonstrate how women or men, girls or boys will be affected.

The Foreign Minister has championed gender equality and empowerment of women and girls through the Government’s Aid Paradigm since it was released in June this year. IWDA will be holding the government accountable to this over the coming months. We will be providing them with examples of why this is the smartest investment of all to promote prosperity, reduce poverty and enhance stability – the purpose of Australian aid as articulated by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

This week we are angry. This is not how we want to be seen as a nation. This is not the Australia we represent. Investing in Australia’s future? Australia is ‘open for business’? I don’t think so.

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Tags: Aid
Sectors: Government