Disappointment over foreign aid cuts

Professor Brendan Crabb AC

16 December, 2014

The Burnet Institute is profoundly disappointed that the government has announced in its Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook that the foreign aid budget will be cut by $3.7 billion over the next three years.

We believe that this decision lacks compassion for the world’s most needy people, many of who live on our doorstep.

Singling out this sector for a second round of savage cuts is not only demonstrably unfair, it shows the government doesn’t value foreign aid as an investment in our own nation’s future.

Yet Australia will pay a price for this, just as if we slashed expenditure to education and health in our own country.

Since this government was elected, the aid budget has been slashed by $11.3 billion over four years making Australia one of the least generous donors in the OECD even though we are located in a region where many of the world’s poorest people reside.

If the proportion of the aid budget allocated to health remains at 16 percent, this means that $1.8 billion is no longer available to help populations in our neighbouring countries achieve a decent standard of health.

That sum could have been invested in strengthening health systems in neighbouring countries and, using the latest cost-effectiveness data, achieved each of the following results over the next four years:

  • The prevention and treatment of malnutrition in two million children, thus ensuring better educational outcomes and employment opportunities;
  • The prevention of 100,000 child deaths through expanding the coverage of immunisation programs;
  • The prevention of 50,000 child deaths from malaria by providing access to more affordable and effective anti-malarial drugs;
  • The prevention of 100,000 adult deaths from tuberculosis by expanding TB diagnosis and treatment programs.

Foreign aid is a runaway success story. For example, the number of young children dying each year of preventable causes has plummeted from around 12 million in 1990 to fewer than seven million now.

As a result of innovative foreign aid, the percentage of the world’s population living in extreme poverty has dropped from 40 percent forty or so years ago, to 15 percent now. It is a much more equitable, safer and wealthier planet as a result.

While providing development assistance to our poorer neighbours is the morally right thing to do for a wealthy nation like Australia, it is also a wise investment in our own future prosperity and security.

For example, as the economies of current recipients of Australian aid grow, they will become important trading partners. South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan and Malaysia are all recent examples of aid leading to wealth and trading success.

As I wrote in The Conversation in 2013: “Distributing our wealth through well-targeted aid to our desperately in-need fellow humans is not just an act of generosity – although this is reason enough for many. It is an essential investment in our future.”


Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Professor Brendan Crabb AC

Director and CEO; Co-Head Malaria Research Laboratory; Chair, Victorian Chapter of the Association of Australian Medical Research Institutes (AAMRI)




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