Sun, 02 Apr 2023

Australia's renewed commitment to neighbourliness is saving lives

Independent Australia
30 Jan 2023, 07:52 GMT+10

The Albanese Government has acted promptly to begin the process of restoring Australia's reputation in the region, as Alan Austin reports.

WE DON'T have far to look to see the value of Australian aid when well-planned and effectively targeted.

Villages located on Timor-Leste's river plains are prone to inundation when river levels surge, causing tragic fatalities as well as extensive loss of housing, livestock, crops and material possessions.

In response to this, CARE Australia and other aid agencies have implemented an effective Disaster Ready project in collaboration with the Timorese disabled persons' organisation, Ra'es Hadomi Timor Oan. Among local people being trained in detecting early warnings of potential disasters is young villager, Julmeira Lopez.

Julmeira said:

Julmeira Lopez (Photo courtesy of CARE/Sarah Wiles)

Welcome expansion

The incoming Albanese Government increased overseas aid in the October Budget to $4,588 million from a miserable $3,755 million allocated in the previous Budget. (See 'Table 6.4.1: Trends in the major components of foreign affairs and economic aid sub-function expenses'.)

Thus begins the task of restoring Australia's generosity to neighbours in need - and Australia's reputation as a global good citizen - after the neglect of the recent Coalition years. See blue chart, below.

(Data source: Australian Treasury Budget Papers)

This year sees a welcome return to partial indexation of the base aid budget, at 2.5% per year, after the Morrison Government froze funding at $4,000 million in 2018.

The largest increases in aid funds will target Southeast Asia and the Pacific. A record high of $1,850 million will go to the Pacific islands - $1,501 million in "base" aid and $346 million in temporary measures. That's around 40% of the aid program.

Much of this additional funding is expected to take the form of direct budget support to governments to bolster their COVID-19 response efforts. Southeast Asia is set to receive $114 million in temporary measures in 2022-23.

Australia and Timor-Leste

Relations between these two close neighbours are gradually being restored after decades of significant strain. Foreign Affairs Minister Penny Wong travelled to Dili last September to meet with the Timor-Leste President, the Prime Minister and her counterpart, Adaljiza Magno, Timor-Leste's Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation.

At a joint press conference, Wong announced an additional $20 million in a COVID-19 response package for programs managed and delivered by the Timor-Leste Government. That is on top of the $100 million dollars already allocated for base development assistance.

Australia needs to stop patronising the Pacific Island states

The Albanese Government is continuing the Coalition's habit of using condescending language to discuss Pacific Island relations.

Wong said:

More than just money

Important elements of projects like CARE Australia's disaster prevention initiatives in Timor-Leste are increasing gender equality and reducing gender-based violence by ensuring women's active participation in the programs.

Julmeira Lopez believes empowering women to lead in remote areas is crucial, particularly in patriarchal societies where deep-rooted gender norms can create major barriers to women's engagement and leadership:

Morrison's arrogance toward South Pacific fuels China tensions

The Coalition's fumbling of foreign policy has resulted in a dangerous display of bravado as tensions escalate with China.

Much more yet to do

After eight years of Coalition governments, Australia's overseas aid relative to gross national Income (GNI) remains unacceptably low. The historic target has been 0.7% of GNI, which Australia came close to achieving during the Whitlam years. It has been downhill from there, ending up at a miserable 0.20% last year.

According to Dr Angela Clare of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Security Section of the Parliamentary Library, the percentage is not expected to change this year:

The Australian Greens have called for Australia's Official Development Assistance (ODA) to be set at a minimum of 0.7% of GNI, 'with provision for increases in the event of natural disasters or conflicts requiring major humanitarian interventions and climate reparations'.

Most developed countries appear to have targets at around 0.4% of GNI.

Australia can certainly do far better than its current meagre level. But at least a start appears to have been made.

To donate to CARE Australia or find out more about its efforts towards supporting women, defeating poverty and withstanding climate disasters and other crises, visit care.org.au.

Alan Austin is an Independent Australia columnist and freelance journalist. You can follow him on Twitter @alanaustin001.

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