By Paul Dobbyn
THE Federal Budget’s cutting of billions of dollars in foreign aid “marks a notable turn to a more insular Australia for the first time in several decades”.
Caritas Australia chief executive officer Paul O’Callaghan made the comment after the government’s announcement it would slash nearly $8 billion from foreign aid funding in the next five years.
“This decision is in direct conflict with Australians’ generosity,” he said.
“Every year, almost two million households donate to the work of Australian aid and development agencies.
“Among 5.4 million Catholics nationwide, around 90 per cent of parishes and 70 per cent of schools support Caritas Australia’s work with the children, women and men most vulnerable to poverty and injustice.”
Mr O’Callaghan, who had a distinguished 18-year career with the Department of Foreign Affairs including a period as Samoa’s High Commissioner, called on Catholics who believed Australia should take a co-leadership role with other wealthy countries in addressing poverty to give voice to their concerns.
He said the budget “marks a watershed in Australia’s engagement in the region”.
“From Prime Minister (Robert) Menzies through to Prime Ministers (Malcolm) Fraser and (John) Howard, Coalition governments have demonstrated a global view, not a narrow view based only on Australia’s immediate neighbourhood,” he said.
“An example of this is that they initiated or supported 53 Australian peace keeping contingents since the 1950s, of which 37 were outside Australia’s.”
Mr O’Callaghan said the government had stepped away from the authoritative measure used by all 24 OECD countries, by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and other global institutions.
“As the 10th wealthiest country in the world, according to the IMF, this downward shift demonstrates a withdrawal from a respected, co-leadership role in international affairs,” he said.
Mr O’Callaghan said the budget was short sighted in other ways.
“The budget hasn’t just downsized our role in the international community,” he said.
“It is a decision to largely exclude most of the world’s poor from an aid program that has great potential to address the causes of inequality and drive stable and sustainable growth in Africa. “In just over 10 years, Africa will be home to 80 per cent of the poorest people in the world.
“With support from the Australian Government, our local partners in Malawi have succeeded in cutting the average number of months when 16,000 community members have almost no food from five months of the year to one month.”