Australian aid spending is at an all-time low, having been cut from 2013–14, when it was budgeted at 0.37% of gross national income (or $5.7 billion) to 0.21% (or $4 billion) of gross national income. Today the international average is 0.31%. Foreign aid has also been reoriented towards the Pacific as part of Scott Morrison’s Pacific ‘step-up’, further reducing Australia’s aid commitment to the rest of the world.
The Coalition has made successive cuts to the aid budget, and has indicated no intention of increasing foreign aid. Assistant Minister for International Development and the Pacific Senator Anne Ruston has said: “We need to convince Australians that our investment overseas is money spent for them, not money taken from them.”
Senator Anne Ruston’s speech →
Lowy Institute polling shows that Australians believe 14% of the national budget is spent on aid, and that 10% should be spent on aid. In 2018 Australia’s actual aid spending was approximately 0.8% of the federal budget.1
The Australian Labor Party has promised to roll back the Coalition Government’s aid cuts and increase aid spending every year it is in power. Over the next four years, it will increase the aid budget by more than $1.6b.
Shadow Foreign Minister Penny Wong’s media release →
The Australian Greens want foreign aid increased to 0.7% of gross national income over the next decade, in line with UN targets. This would be approximately $12 billion in real terms, putting Australia in the top six donor countries in the OECD.2
Australia’s aid program has always been an electoral challenge — it is simply not a vote winner. Not enough Australians understand its value. In the absence of any definitive election statement about its future aid program, the Coalition government’s actions since coming to power in 2013 — including the merging of AusAID with DFAT and decimation of the aid budget — are the best indicators of what its future aid program will look like.
The Australian Greens are aiming for an unreachable 0.7% of gross national income (GNI) on aid, a UN target since 1970 that has been aspired to by many nations but achieved by only a handful. It is a straw-man promise appealing to an ideal rather than to the possible.
The Australian Labor Party sees an opportunity to present itself as the aid program’s champion by promising to reverse the downward spiral and increase the budget/GNI ratio every year it is in office. Under its Budget Plan, it has committed to increase the aid budget by more than $1.6b over the next four years.
The ALP does recognise the deleterious effect of the Abbott government’s amalgamation of DFAT and AusAID on the quality of the aid program. While not promising to resurrect AusAID, there is a commitment to rebuild Australia’s aid and development capability.