For full transcript and audio: Radio New Zealand International

Australia’s foreign minister says the government is delivering an aid programme that the country can responsibly afford as it repairs five previous record deficits.



Australia’s foreign minister says the government is delivering an aid programme that the country can responsibly afford as it repairs five previous record deficits.

Julie Bishop says the 2014-15 Budget will invest 4.7 billion US dollars each year to promote prosperity, reduce poverty and enhance stability in the Indo-Pacific region.

Jenny Meyer spoke to some Australian observers about the impact of the budget on the Pacific region.
The Director of the Development Policy Centre at the Australian National University, Stephen Howes, says the Australian foreign aid budget is being cut by ten per cent in real terms over the next three years. However he says the Pacific region is being sheltered for now as funding is pulled from other parts of the world.

STEPHEN HOWES: So although there is this ten per cent cut, the Pacific and PNG are being shielded from those cuts and that’s because money is being free up elsewhere partly by a refocussing of the aid programme on the region. So there’s going to be less aid for Africa, less aid for Latin America, and that will help protect the Pacific and PNG.

Stephen Howes says the PNG government is being granted an extra 56 million next year for agreeing to process Australia’s asylum seekers at the Manus Island detention center. He says 375 million dollars of funding taken from the aid budget for on shore processing of asylum seekers has been returned to the pool of aid money as this is now done abroad. The aid monitoring group AidWatch says the latest Australian aid budget is built for the private sector and is an inappropriate use of aid money to promote Australian businesses in the Pacific region. The Director of AidWatch, Thulsi Narayanasamy, says the Abbott government is making its aid for trade agenda a priority and says this can be seen in PNG.

THULSI NARAYANASAMY: And just one example of that is Papua New Guinea, retaining or in fact increasing its aid budget in return for hosting Australia’s Manus Island detention facility. So what we’re seeing really is the furthering of Australia’s foreign policy and security priorities at the expense of what the aid programme should be used for, which is poverty alleviation.

Ms Narayanasamy says details of which aid programmes will be cut are difficult to find and there is a lack of transparency since the aid programme has been integrated into the Foreign Affairs Department. The Australian Council for International Development says the lack of detail on which programmes may be cut or continued is a disturbing trend. The agency’s head of policy, Joanna Lindner-Pradela, says the budget documents merely outline figures at the country level and fail to go into the detail of the specific policy priority areas.

JOANNA LINDNER-PRADELA: That level of detail has been a hallmark of the Australian aid programme’s budget blue books which have been part of the budget night documentation since 1999 and this year is the first year since then that we haven’t had a budget blue book so we haven’t been able to see sectoral allocations or thematic spends.

The ANU’s Stephen Howes says some Pacific regional organisations such as the Pacific Islands Forum, the SPC and some of the multilateral organisations will have previously cut funding reinstated. He says there is an increase in the humanitarian budget for disaster relief but no real increase for NGOs. He says with overall spending for the Pacific region goes up slightly from 1 billion USD to 1.08 billion USD next year but the region won’t continue to receive annual increases in aid as in the past.

STEPHEN HOWES: I do think it is a very significant budget for aid. Because although the Pacific is protected for now, if you look at the bigger picture Australia has been scaling up its aid for the last ten years or so. We are now on a different trajectory where we’re actually scaling down.
Stephen Howes says the detail lacking in the budget on which programmes will be most affected is likely to be revealed by the government in about two weeks.

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