What happened to the Govt’s promise to help the poor?
The Australian aid sector’s fury at the aid budget cuts announced on Tuesday has been focused on the dollar figure that the Government has (or rather, hasn’t) allocated to foreign aid.
But there’s another reason to be angry.
Alongside its much-smaller-that-promised aid budget, the Gillard government delivered another announcement. “Australia is deepening its engagement with effective multilateral organisations including the Development Banks,” Foreign Minister Carr blogged proudly on Wednesday.
And spending plans reflect this. The World Bank and the Asian Development Bank were served a generous 20% portion of Tuesday’s limited aid budget. This is an increase on last year, and makes Australia the second-largest donor to the ADB. Effective?
History shows that the Development Banks are almost entirely ineffective in actually improving the lives of poor and excluded people. They assist in the economic growth of nations and walk away, half-heartedly crossing their fingers that the wealth at the top will trickle down to poor communities.
What’s more, the World Bank and the ADB are in the habit of funding large-scale profit-driven projects that sweep the rights and livelihoods of communities under the rug.
Do the World Bank and the ADB genuinely help the world’s poor? Just ask the 20,000 people whose livelihoods are being threatened by a World Bank-funded palm oil growing and processing project on Bugala Island on East Africa’s Lake Victoria.
The project is being implemented by a private sector consortium, Oil Palm Uganda Limited, and the Ugandan government – both of whom stand to benefit economically from its implementation.
Some of Bugala Island’s local communities cannot access clean water: it has been contaminated with chemicals from the plant.
Their food supplies are becoming inaccessible, as fines are doled out and animals confiscated when they are found grazing on the plant’s land.
The project may be stimulating economic development, but is paying for it in human rights. Not particularly effective aid.
And yet the government is proclaiming with great pride that Australia’s 2012-2013 aid program will be more “effective” than ever. It needs to be.
The cuts to the aid budget mean that the Gillard government is going to have to get a lot more bang for its smaller buck if it intends to maintain its commitment to the Millennium Development Goals.
The MDGs were set by the international community for 2015. The deadline hasn’t changed. Bob Carr is going to have to pull rabbits out of hats to uphold Australia’s part of the bargain when the allocated budget to do so will be available a year after the deadline itself.
But the Foreign Minister is in luck. Real aid that changes lives is not just about a dollar figure.
Australia can still contribute significantly to the MDGs if we spend our money on ensuring that poor and excluded people can access their human rights.
When people living in poverty are empowered to stand up and claim their rights: to food security, to health care, to life without violence (the list goes on), world poverty will be eradicated.
Not only has the government reneged on its promise to help the poor, it is giving more money to banks who help those who violate the rights of poor people. Wayne Swan and Bob Carr would do well to remember this when preparing for next year’s Federal Budget.
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