Britain has recently decided to stop overseas aid to India. It had become untenable for the Government to take money from British taxpayers to subsidise a nuclear power with a space program.
It’s time Australia took a similar, hard-nosed approach to overseas aid. If the Asian Century means anything, it means Australians realising that the hubris, paternalism, and sentimentalism reflected in an old style ‘first-world helping out the third-world’ aid program is anachronistic.
Mutual economic and social benefit must be the criterion for any investment of Australian funds in another country. Leveraging and increasing Australian strengths must be the strategy.
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The government has actually borrowed billions to buy a vanity pulpit for Kevin Rudd.
But it’s not going to be occupied by him – unless of course there is another coup by the faceless men and the ALP decides after all the nasty things they said they want him back.
Until then Julia Gillard and Bob Carr will use their very expensive new toy, the vanity pulpit, to bore us with endless “initiatives” on world issues. The fact is the Russians and Chinese who actually run the Security Council will ignore each of them.
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The fussy asylum seekers from Sri Lanka—one look at Nauru and they are off back home—have raised serious questions for the Federal Government on who is a genuine refugee.
The voluntary returnees risk tainting the asylum seeker debate against those who really are trying to escape death and harassment based on their ethnic, political or religious backgrounds.
At the same time, they are raising Government hopes that the new version of the Pacific Solution might be starting to work as a genuine deterrent to irregular arrivals.
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Millions of human lives are at risk. Again. Another famine looms in Africa, this time in the continent’s West. Countries of the Sahel region, including Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Africa’s smallest nation, The Gambia, are in the midst of a developing food crisis.
Their people are beginning to die.
Sadly, it’s a tired tale. African famines have haunted our headlines for decades, and they’re still coming hard and fast. Just last year we saw thousands of lives lost in East Africa, and too few saved when the developed world and its aid agencies dashed in to save them from a famine that was already well-established.
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Ten million children vaccinated. 2.5 million people with access to safe drinking water. And 30 million people supported through humanitarian crises like famine and war. These are some outcomes to be delivered this year, by Australia’s Budget for overseas aid.
This year, Australia’s aid budget will rise – by $300 million, to a record $5.2 billion. And it will go on rising - reaching $7.7 billion in three year’s time.
In dollar terms our aid budget is the largest in our history. As a percentage of Gross National Income, it’s at 0.35%, rising to 0.5% by 2016/17. That’s just one year later than planned – a pretty good outcome in a tough budget year.
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In the summer of 1858, the Great Stink overwhelmed London. The stench of raw sewerage festering in the Thames nearly forced Parliament to abandon Westminster. In the previous decade, tens of thousands of Londoners had died of cholera caused by the contaminated water.
Two men, Dr John Snow and an engineer named Joseph Bazalgette, ended the cholera epidemics with the life-saving discovery that hand-washing with soap prevents the spread of the disease, and by developing an innovative sewerage system that rid the streets of shit.
The network of sewers built by Bazalgette is still used by Londoners today. Yet 2.5 billion people around the world still don’t have access to basic sanitation, and every day 4000 children under the age of 5 die of diarrhoea.
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In 10 days I’m going to get on a plane and go to Kenya. I’ve packed my clothes, my sunscreen, my wide-brimmed hat and my mosquito net. I’ve also packed the $7,000 dollars I raised to fund the building of an orphanage in Mangu – the project I’ll be working on.
I’ve also packed another $1,000 of my own money to spend at the local market on gifts, books, schoolbags, pens and paper for the kids. So with this in mind, you can imagine my surprise when this bold opinion piece was emailed to me: “Hands-on help can be harmful”.
There are always rotten apples in the barrel and clearly there are some overseas volunteer projects that are not set up with the best of intentions. And I agree that for many overseas projects there should be formal checks on those working with children.
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For at least the fourth time since the “Band Aid” famine of the 1980s , the beleaguered citizens of the Horn of Africa endured famine, as a result of ongoing drought, desertification and civil strife.
Refugee camps in northern Kenya swelled massively, the Dadaab camp bursting with half a million people. As the crisis unfolded, a British newspaper warned that if the West failed to act appropriately, it would be as complicit as the warlords exacerbating the situation in Africa.
What happened next
The West did indeed open its pockets. The UK government’s initial AID package was the equivalent of $60 million. By the first week of December, Australians had donated $12.7 million, and the government matched the donations under their dollar-for-dollar aid scheme. The crisis continues.
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Last Friday, 16 September, Papua New Guinea celebrated the 36th anniversary of its independence.
The last 36 years has been an endlessly fascinating journey for a country with which Australia has had an abiding interest. Yet you wouldn’t know this from our media. With less Australians based in PNG since Independence it seems PNG’s profile in our national discourse has diminished and this has to change.
So last night PNG’s Independence Day was marked in the Commonwealth Parliament through the inaugural PNG Independence Day Oration.
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Neuroscientists have found that over 80 per cent of calories that newborns ingest fuel their brains. The colossal statistic accounts for how rapidly the young brain grows and develops.
It paints us a new picture of malnutrition. It tells us that babies caught up in the developing famine in East Africa will almost certainly suffer starvation-induced damage that will have long-term developmental effects on their minds.
Babies are arriving in field hospitals in Dadaab, Kenya, too weak to cry. Many weigh a third of what they should.
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Want to know how Australia’s $4.836 billion in Australian overseas aid will be spent in 2011-12? Finding out is not easy of you are a journalist or documentary filmmaker and do not want to rely only on Department of Foreign Affairs press releases and what is to be found on the DFAT and AusAID websites.
“I am committed to enhancing the transparency of our aid program,” writes Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd on the DFAT website. “When people are able to access information, they are better able to hold those who are managing their money — whether AusAID, partner governments, or international organisations — to account.”
Noble sentiments - but how does Rudd’s professed commitment to transparency and accountability stack up when it comes to providing media access to the aid programs on which this money is being spent?
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A couple of weeks ago Ant Sharwood gave me a call and started talking about the Horn of Africa. He was pretty fired up, and talking about various types of excrement hitting various types of oscillating devices.
I was pretty distracted. There’d been a lot going on. That tax thing had just been announced, sharia law was in the news – you know, all the hot button stuff. Africa was not in the news. Well, it was, but back in the World section, the bit you don’t always manage to get to. That’s the hollow ring of self justification you can hear there, folks.
Anyhoo, Ant wrote this great piece. And he was right. The shit has really hit the fan, and it was a terrible surprise for many who probably should have seen it coming. Should have seen it coming for not just years, but decades.
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It is 27 years since a bunch of do-gooding musicians, led by Bob Geldof, banded together to alert the world to a North African famine. We need more than a Band Aid solution this time.
Since the 1984 famine, the so-called “horn” of Africa – which includes Somalia, Ethiopia, the tiny nation of Djibouti and northern Kenya – has had several crippling droughts which have led to famines. The last really bad one was in 2006. But there were several between then and the Band Aid era.
And now, the curse of famine is descending upon the region again, due to a combination of the usual suspects of drought, desertification, crop failure and military conflicts. Early estimates suggest that 10 million people are at risk of starvation.
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Floods, earthquakes, droughts and cyclones are becoming more frequent around the world and the number of people affected by them is growing. In developed countries such as Australia and New Zealand we are experiencing firsthand the demands these events place on those directly affected and on those responding. In developing countries these challenges are amplified.
As Australia’s aid program continues to grow – in line with the bi-partisan commitment for aid funding to reach half a per cent of our national income by 2015 – it will become even more important to make sure we are using this money effectively. The current Independent Review of Aid Effectiveness, led by Sandy Hollway, is timely, needed and most welcome.
Australia’s aid program has experienced an unusually high profile in recent weeks. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s proposal to ‘defer’ a $448 million aid program to Indonesian schools – and the alleged ructions in Shadow Cabinet over it – generated a lively public debate.
Tony Abbott’s suggestion of cutting aid to Indonesia to fund Queensland flood reconstruction was met with immediate fury from aid experts, who declared the decision morally bankrupt.
Yet Mr Abbott’s announcement has raised an important issue that should not simply be brushed under the carpet: the need for aid effectiveness.
When he announced the proposed cut, Mr Abbott said funding would be “deferred” subject to a full review of the effectiveness of the program.
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We need to cut our foreign aid budget to help for the reconstruction of Queensland and to help Queenslanders get back on their feet.
There are three main reasons why we should look for savings within the aid budget.
First, the aid budget is set to undergo a massive increase in the next few years and there is room for cuts. Currently, according AusAID, the agency that hands out our foreign aid, our aid budget is about $4.3 billion. According to AusAID projections, this will increase to $4.84 billion in 2011-12; $5.53 billion in 2012-13; $6.44 billion in 2013-14; $7.42 billion in 2014-15; and $8.49 billion in 2015-16.
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Here’s a great story in the spirit of the festive season.
Melbourne-based academic and human rights advocate Sekai Shand has spent the majority of the last 25 years working in various international disaster zones.
But she recently returned home to the African village where she was raised to perform her most important mission yet - helping the women of her village overcome poverty and violence through self-sufficiency.
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Sometimes we need to create a big stink to change people’s minds. I’d like to create a Big Stink.
We forget the lessons of history at our peril.
In the late 19th century it took the stench of raw sewage in our cities to convince politicians to pass legislation and provide safe sanitation and water to protect Australians who were dying daily of preventable diseases like diarrhoea.
One of the more unedifying spectacles on the world stage in the last fortnight has been the verbal dogfight between Bob Geldof and the BBC over aid to Ethiopia.
For me the allegations, that money from Band Aid and Live Aid was diverted for political and military purposes, and Geldof’s furious denunciations, had particular resonance.
Exactly twenty years ago, I was in Ethiopia to make a film for Four Corners, called the Forgotten Famine, which addressed some of these issues on the spot. The debate today seems to me confused, exaggerated and divorced from reality.
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Just once I’d like to see a celebrity, the kind that make a lot of fuss about pledging money to a cause like Haiti, to follow through.
It doesn’t matter which one. I just want to see them turn up again a few months-even a year- later to check how things are going. After the camera’s been turned off and around the time we’ve all started to forget how badly we cared about it.
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As the rescue operation in Haiti begins to shift to one of recovery, the global community is now beginning to see the true scale of the disaster which has struck the tiny Carribean nation. Natural disasters such as the Haitian earthquake, the Samoan and Tongan tsunami of last year and the Asian tsunami of 2004 always bring out a truly astounding expression of a shared humanity.
Natural disasters bring poverty to the fore but the fact is extreme poverty is a daily reality for far too many people around the world.
25,000 children will die today from preventable diseases, 900 million people around the world will go to sleep hungry tonight, and tomorrow 1.4billion people will be forced to survive on less than US$1.25 for the day – more than two-thirds of them women and children.
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This week I have been travelling around the Central and Western wheat-belt of NSW and have seen the destruction that the drought is again bringing to many regions. The dust storm which hit Sydney also took with it the hopes and this year’s incomes of many country people.
I would normally never publish a letter like this, however, time is running out for many farmers and I can only hope that by publishing this letter on The Punch, the Prime Minister takes an interest and finds the time to visit the men and women for whom the drought is now becoming a reoccurring nightmare.
Hon Kevin Rudd MP
Prime Minister of Australia
Suite MG 8
Canberra ACT 2600
Dear Prime Minister,
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