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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One criticism frequently levelled against the media is that we habitually devote acres of space to disasters involving ourselves and other first world nations and relegate bigger catastrophes in the developing world to a couple of paragraphs on page 44.
It is true that this happens but I don’t regard it as particularly evil. It is no different from the fact that a television station in Guatemala will run big on an earthquake in nearby Nicaragua yet ignore or downplay something much worse which happened in Australia or Indonesia or Thailand. Proximity and familiarity motivate these news judgments. I doubt the Queensland floods or the Victorian bushfires were on the front page of many newspapers in Africa.
The coverage of Hurricane Sandy in Australia this week has been massive, and understandably so, as we have a close relationship with America, many of us have holidayed there, many of us have lived or do live there.
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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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Haiti seared itself onto our consciousness on 12 January 2010. The deadliest earthquake ever to hit the region reduced much of Port-au-Prince to rubble. Buildings with concrete slab roofs in squatter settlements perched on the side of steep hills concertinaed under the stress - leaving their inhabitants no chance.
Speaking to those who experienced the earthquake, the real shock came in the following days when the full extent of the damage was realised. When it was finally tallied the startling reality was 316,000 people lost their lives in a population of only ten million.
Two years on and there is still rubble throughout Port-au-Prince. Last week I watched, along with many other sombre onlookers, the beginning of the demolition of the presidential palace which was irreparably damaged in the earthquake.
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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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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.
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Every 20 seconds, a baby or toddler will die from a disease that can be prevented by a simple vaccine. Most of these deaths happen in developing countries because children go without the immunisations and lack access to other health services that parents in wealthy nations take for granted.
As usual, it is the poorest children in the poorest countries who are least likely to be immunised, and it is those same children who are at the greatest risk of being exposed to life-threatening, preventable diseases like tetanus, polio and measles.
This week, April 21-28, is World Immunisation Week, and around the world we acknowledge that all children have the right to life and health, no matter where they live.
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Australians do not need to be told that today is World Water Day to remember that water is both a giver and taker of life. This is the driest populated continent and we know well the impact of both floods and droughts.
But how many people are aware that billions of people across the world still lack access to a hygienic toilet, a tap and soap? Or that the failure to provide sanitation and safe drinking water causes about 4000 children to die every day?
The preventable diseases caused by poor sanitation cause more child deaths than malaria, measles and HIV/AIDS combined. Almost one in three people live in unsanitary conditions.
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The Mexican Ambassador to Venezuala was recently kidnapped. A ransom demand ensued and after five or six hours he was released.
The incident happened right outside his house in what was thought to be a safer part of town. The attack was highly co-ordinated with three teams of assailants using sophisticated and powerful weaponry.
While no-one was hurt, the episode was traumatic and by no means a one-off incident. It has left the diplomatic community in this city thinking intensely about how to deal with this ever-present danger in as professional a way as possible.
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Once again Africa is gripped by a catastrophic famine. As developed countries and NGOs scramble to mobilise aid, we are told incomprehensible numbers of people face a ghastly death by starvation, including hundreds of thousands of children.
It can make you despair. Sometimes we feel like turning away, we seem so powerless and the problems so entrenched and repetitive. Giving money can feel pointless; commercial TV news hardly mentions the crisis, guessing it will have viewers reaching for the remote control.
But there’s another story about Africa many Australians might find very surprising.
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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.
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Public money should not be spent on promoting religion.
We don’t need religious school chaplains. State schools should be well and truly secular. Religion is a choice, not an educational need. Taxpayers should not foot the bill for others to indulge their beliefs.
Except in Indonesia.
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Over recent years, Australia has doubled its financial commitment to foreign aid.
Yet our aid program has remained starved of attention from the government, media and community at large.
On Tuesday, Kevin Rudd sought to rectify this by announcing a five-month independent review of the effectiveness of Australia aid.
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It has a population of 6.3 million. It is one of Australia’s two really large recipients of aid.
We are its largest trading partner. It is our 19th. It’s about 400 times closer to us than New Zealand.
Yet for some reason our media and public discourse doesn’t seem to rate the importance of Papua New Guinea. On this website a search on Papua New Guinea yields 23 hits compared to 35 for Spain, 76 for South Africa and 94 for Iran.
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Although I am closely involved in the aid and development sector, I was pleased to read Monday’s News Limited critical pieces by Steve Lewis in the Daily Telegraph and the Adelaide Advertiser.
Negative publicity is never good for any sector. However, the recent pieces in Australia’s newspapers are a positive sign of the fact that Australians are engaging with the global movement to take action on extreme poverty.
In my role as a development educator, I have been witnessing this change in our societal perspective on a daily basis. Australians are no longer simply asking how many aid dollars are being allocated to help the billions of people living in extreme poverty: we are now questioning the effectiveness of this spending. We are finally applying the age-old adage of ‘quality over quantity’ where it matters most, in the lives of the world’s poorest.
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When rock stars Bob Geldof and U2’s Bono stomped through the United Nations a decade ago, demanding rich nations stump up billions of dollars in extra foreign aid, the world took notice.
Even John Howard signed up to this ``Make Poverty History’’ chant, determined to avoid being seen as a global Mr Scrooge.
But with Australia preparing to double annual foreign aid spending to $8 billion-plus by 2015, the time is right to pause and take account of how we are managing the current program.
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When you think of Canberra’s more secretive agencies, Australia’s spy agencies – ASIO and ASIS – usually come to mind.
It’s likely that the agency responsible for delivering bikes to poor Aids ravaged Africans, in a country with little or no public transport like Namibia, is not top of the list.
Yet as today’s News Limited investigation shows, AusAID is an agency with a secretive culture that rejects the accountability and transparency it demands of aid recipients such as the Bicycle Empowerment Network.
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Let me tell you the story of Shane Dolan.
I met him two decades ago, when I was in Ethiopia for Four Corners, filming “The Forgotten Famine”, which I wrote about in this space a month ago.
Shane was an aid worker. Not the kind who hands out food at emergency relief centres, but the kind who works for the long term.
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Throughout history millions have urged us to ‘make love, not war’ and an important voice has just joined this choir.
On Tuesday, Australia’s former Army Chief, Peter Leahy, suggested that the defence budget should be cut and redirected towards its diplomacy and aid programs – and no, he wasn’t wearing flares or dreads.
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With detention facilities on Christmas Island getting closer and closer to capacity, and a Federal election looming, the issue of desperate people seeking asylum on Australian shores remains a hotbed of cheap political point-scoring at the expense of some of the world’s neediest people.
Disappointingly, the term “queue jumper” is now so deeply entrenched in our nation’s vernacular that some Australian politicians use it interchangeably with the term “asylum seeker”.
Let me be clear and point out that two are not synonymous. In fact, the queue is a myth.
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For a politician who prides himself on his relationship with Australian voters, Barnaby Joyce’s comments this week on foreign aid are, frankly, un-Australian.
Senator Joyce used a speech at the National Press Club yesterday to suggest that $50 million in aid that will help people with little or no food in poor countries deal with rising food prices should instead be spent on lowering food prices in Australia.
This year Australia’s foreign aid spending will total just $3.8 billion – or only about 0.35 per cent of our gross national income. That’s 35 cents in every $100. In the context of the Australian Government’s overall budget, we’re talking about a very small amount. Our Government has enough money to fund this, while also spending on essential services here.
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It was disturbing to read recently that 122 humanitarian workers lost their lives in strife torn countries last year, but even more disturbing to read the reason why.
Aid workers are now often seen in some of the most desperate and violent places in the world to be covert activists, even spies, working against the thugs, dictators and/or clerics who run the hellholes where aid workers try to go about their business.
That makes them targets.
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