id groups have praised Labor’s promise to ramp up foreign aid by $1.6 billion over four years, but say the pledge falls well short of the ALP’s own policy platform.
- Labor will raise foreign aid by $1.6 billion over four years
- Aid groups have welcomed the news but say it is not enough
- The Coalition cut billions in foreign aid over the last six years
The Federal Opposition has long promised to boost aid if it wins power, but now it has put a figure on that increase for the first time.
Foreign aid would grow by only $30 million next financial year, but there would be more substantial increases after that, with $220 million additional funding in 2020-21, $410 million in 2021-22 and $520 million in 2022-23.
Labor would also pour an extra $380 million into the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees over four years.
The Coalition has cut aid heavily over the last six years, and the sector has largely welcomed the announcement.
“After relentless cuts, this lift would get Australia’s international development spending out of the doldrums and back on a surer footing,” said Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) chief executive Marc Purcell.
The party’s platform says Labor will increase foreign aid to 0.5 per cent of gross national income (GNI) — although it doesn’t put a timeframe on that goal.
Meeting that target would cost tens of billions of dollars, and Labor sources have played down the prospect of it becoming a reality within the next five or ten years.
Marc Purcell said there was no chance the ALP would meet its goal under the trajectory it had laid out.
“The increases would simply be too slow to reach the target. Australia needs an accelerated timetable if it’s to reach 0.5 per cent, and the internationally agreed goal of 0.7 per cent by 2030,” said Mr Purcell.
Other aid sector leaders were more critical in private.
Labor’s commitment was “pretty weak”, said the head of one non-government organisation (NGO) who wished to remain anonymous out of fear of damaging their relationship with Labor.
“Yes, it’s certainly better than what Coalition promised. We’re glad (Labor) will bring era of aid cuts to a close,” they said.
“But this would still basically see the aid budget limp along.”
Opposition spokeswoman for foreign affairs Penny Wong emphasised that the ALP was still promising to plunge more money into the sector than the Coalition.
“Labor has made clear we will not be able to undo all of the damage caused by the Liberals’ $11 billion in aid cuts in our first term,” said Senator Wong.
“What we have committed to, and what we will deliver, is to raise aid spending as a proportion of GNI every year that we are in office, starting with our first budget.”
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said Labor had to explain how it would pay for its 0.5 per cent commitment.
“(It) would cost between $68 and $82 billion over the next decade, depending on the rate of implementation. It has not been accounted for,” he said.