Marie Stopes International Australia’s Statement on the 2018 Australian Federal Budget
While $35 billion dollars of additional revenue will help fund tax cuts and infrastructure investment in the next three years, Australia’s commitment to those less fortunate in the region is declining. On the back of five years of dramatic cuts, the 2018/19 budget for foreign aid remains frozen at $4.16billion, with indexation on hold until 2022. This equates to a decline of $141 million over the forward estimates. By 2021/22, Australia’s commitment to aid will have fallen to an all time low of 19 cents in every $100 of Gross National Income.
While Australia’s 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper lauds the importance of aid in diplomacy and trade, these cuts show once again that the Government isn’t prepared to make proper investments to achieve these ends. According to a recent OECD report, Australia’s “successive cuts (were)…impairing its efforts”, with authors calling on Australia to “shore up development aid to match its reinforced engagement”.1 The latest cut reduces our level of support, engagement and influence within the region as increasing contributions from China,2 NZ3 and the UK4 allow them to take up more of this space.
Not only is the budget bad news for diplomacy, it’s a devastating result for the millions of people in Asia and the Pacific whose lives are improved by support from the Australian government. And the biggest losers will be women.
Globally, women and girls tend to be more affected by poverty,5 disability6 and gender based violence7 than their fathers, husbands or brothers. They are less likely to be literate,8 have a secondary education,9 or participate in the formal economy.10 They bear the responsibility of pregnancy, childbirth and the bulk of domestic duties.11 And in our region, where more people are affected by climate related events than any other region in the world,12 women are also disproportionately impacted by natural disasters and experience higher fatality and morbidity rates.13
We know that increased prosperity and stability are only achievable by investing in women and girls. The Foreign Minister has proudly stated her commitment to gender equality14 and after two years of steep decline we are finally seeing an increase in spending on critical reproductive health services, like family planning.15 However, the latest cut puts progress at risk. The gains we have made in women and girls’ education, health and economic participation are fragile and need sustained support to continue. There are still 100 million women in Asia with an unmet need for contraception16 and the Australian government can play a key role in addressing this – empowering women with choice, improving health and economic outcomes and helping bring about climate action.
Our Prime Minister is committed to achieving a ‘secure, open and prosperous’ region,17 but Australia can’t expect to bring about stability and security in the region without investing in it.
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