SYDNEY: Australia’s slashing of foreign aid by almost Aus$1.0 billion (US$800 million) will hurt the most vulnerable people in Asia and Africa and damage the country’s reputation, aid groups said Wednesday.
In its national budget on Tuesday, Australia confirmed that aid spending will fall by Aus$980.2 million to Aus$4.1 billion in 2015-16 as it looks for savings to rein in its deficit. The Asian region will lose Aus$522.5 million in assistance.
Aid to sub-Saharan Africa was slashed by about 70 percent to Aus$31.8 million in cuts which were first flagged by the conservative government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott last year.
Indonesia, the largest single beneficiary of Australian aid, will see its allocation plunge by Aus$542.5 million to Aus$323.0 million for 2015-16.
“Who that hits in particular, is Indonesia’s vulnerable,” Save the Children Australia’s Mat Tinkler told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
“What it means is less children get vaccinated, less girls go to school, less women get empowered through work. So it really is the poor people of Indonesia and our region who are going to bear the brunt of this budget cut.”
Care Australia said in a statement that the cuts had left the nation’s international reputation “in tatters” and it would take many years for the country’s aid program to recover.
“Australia is turning its back on poor communities across Africa and Asia, and putting at risk the hard-won development gains we have made over many years in countries like Afghanistan,” chief executive Julia Newton-Howes said.
Treasurer Joe Hockey said that all cuts in foreign aid were based on looking at “how we can get (a) better bang for our buck”.
“We are not going to continue to give huge lifts of aid money to countries that then go and give aid to other countries,” he said.
But Labor’s opposition spokeswoman on foreign affairs Tanya Plibersek said the government’s decision would damage Australia’s reputation.
A number of charities had been forced to axe important programs in at least two dozen countries in response, she said, with World Vision estimating some 1.3 million people will miss out on its services alone next year.