17 June 2024

Australia to hit historic low in overseas aid generosity

The budget promises $117 million more for overseas aid, but it’s still peanuts compared to how much other wealthy countries give. Photo: iStock.

Maya Pilbrow

11 May 2023

The federal budget will stabilise Australia’s overseas aid spending after years of neglect from previous governments, but we’ll still rank near the bottom of OECD nations in terms of generosity.

Spending on official development assistance has increased by $117 million since the Albanese government’s first budget in October last year according to the Australian Council For International Development. Official development assistance now stands at $4.77 billion. 

Micah Australia national director Matt Darvas said he was pleased to see the Labor government commit to increased aid spending but saw the budget as filling a funding hole left by the previous government.

“Australian aid was left in quite a strong downward position when the last government left office,” he said.

Mr Darvas said Australian spending on aid as a percentage of gross national income had reached a historic low of 0.19 per cent. This makes Australia the 3rd least generous out of 30 OECD countries.

“Inflation is going up. Australia’s economy is growing. The aid budget is not keeping pace,” he said. “We’re becoming less generous.”

Read more: Millions more face starvation as battle rages in Sudan

The budget outlines $36.8 million over four years in new funds to help the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade deliver Australia’s international development and humanitarian assistance program. A new $1.9 billion government package will support Pacific Island countries over five years. The government will also spend $8.8 million on disaster risk reduction and preparedness in the Pacific and give $14 million to the UN Central Emergency Response Fund. 

ACFID policy and advocacy advisor Brigid O’Farrell said this year’s budget helped put international development on a steadier footing following cuts to the aid programme in recent years.

Ms O’Farrell said funding increases had to be understood in the context of inflation and overall spending.

She said aid spending had gone from 0.71 per cent of the overall budget in October last year to 0.7 per cent this year.

This year’s budget focuses on five key areas. These are delivering cost‑of‑living relief, strengthening Medicare, growing the economy, broadening opportunity and strengthening the budget. Spending measures include a $11.3 billion pay rise for aged care workers, $5.7 billion to improve Medicare, $2.2 billion to amend the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and $3 billion on energy bill relief. 

Anglican Overseas Aid chief executive Jo Knight said she was pleased to see climate impacts in the Pacific region addressed in the budget, but said it was disappointing to see funding reductions for other regions. 

Despite a food security crisis in the Horn of Africa that Ms Knight said was approaching famine conditions, funding for Sub-Saharan Africa reduced by 15.6 per cent over last year according to ACFID.

Ms Knight said government spending was needed to address humanitarian crises.

“We can do lots with the support of the Australian public, but there are times when you need the scale of government to step in.”

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