Opinion pieces


November 06, 2019

As one of the world's richest countries, Australia needs to play its part in lifting people out of destitution and despair.

This requires support for development in all its facets - from responding to humanitarian crises, to the reforms needed to drive sustainable economic growth, to investing in human development needs around food security, health, education, gender equality and human rights.

Helping lift people out of poverty is the right thing to do. Millions of Australians reach into their own pockets to support this work out of their sense of compassion.

Helping lift people out of poverty is also in Australia's national interest. At a time of significant global challenges, we need to advance prosperity, stability and security in our region.

This is why Labor has been so concerned about the Coalition Government's cuts to Australia's foreign aid budget - cuts totalling $11.8 billion since 2013.

We are now on a trajectory which will see aid falling from 0.33 per cent of gross national income in 2013-14 to 0.19 per cent next financial year, the lowest on record.

Australia has fallen from being the 13th most generous OECD country in 2012 to the 18th spot in 2017.

This comes as the challenges of tackling poverty are growing more severe, despite remarkable progress over the last quarter century.

More than one billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty since 1990, due in no small part to the growth of China and India.

Yet more than 700 million people around the world still live in extreme poverty, surviving on less than US$1.90 a day, and nearly half the world lives on less than US$5.50 a day.

The case for increasing Australia's development assistance is clear. The budget is projected to achieve a surplus this year - removing the only rationale ever provided by the Coalition for the cuts.

The cuts have been so severe that the aid budget is now inadequate to meet the Government's own foreign policy priorities, particularly its Pacific Step Up.

The need to increase Australia's development presence in the Pacific can now only be accommodated by cutting assistance for other countries, such as Pakistan. This is irresponsible and a perverse outcome which undermines Australia's foreign policy and security interests in an open and free Indo-Pacific.

Climate change is a striking example of the intersection between development and security policy.

The Chief of the Australian Defence Force, General Angus Campbell, has pointed out that climate change has security implications because of its impacts on natural disasters, movement of people, access to resources and the territorial integrity of vulnerable countries.

Developing countries in the Pacific are especially vulnerable to rising sea levels, more frequent and intense weather events and disruptions to agriculture.

This is likely to require Australian Defence Force personnel to take part in more humanitarian operations in coming years.

The potential for developing countries to face the loss of habitable territory may see movement of people or tensions over access to resources.

From a development perspective, climate change will make it even harder for vulnerable countries to achieve economic growth.

It will also exacerbate challenges around food and water security, sanitation, the spread of diseases and other health impacts.

Development and security also come together around the impact of poverty and state fragility on civil strife, international conflict and violent extremism.

Development must also be deployed along with diplomacy and defence cooperation if we are to achieve peace, prosperity and stability.

Development tackles the root causes of insecurity and instability, helping prevent conflicts before they emerge by promoting opportunity and hope for the future.

Development also improves our international relationships through the co-operation and engagement it requires with countries we assist and our partners in multilateral and regional development settings.

So when it comes to the rationale for international development, and debates over the level of resources devoted to this mission, there are cogent security and national interest-based arguments in addition to humanitarian arguments for boosting Australia's efforts.

This opinion piece was first published in NEWCASTLE HERALD on Wednesday, 6 November 2019.

Authorised by Paul Erickson, ALP, Canberra