15 December, 2014 - High time for Parliamentary oversight of overseas aid cuts: Plan

Plan International Australia CEO Ian Wishart is available for comment, interviews, grabs, etc. Contact Adam Cathro on 0488 202 945 to organise.

The Federal Government must stop treating the overseas aid budget as a piggybank to be raided to plug its fiscal holes and instead subject it to formal Parliamentary or legislative oversight, says child rights organisation and NGO Plan International Australia.

Plan’s call follows the Federal Government’s decision today to rip another $3.7 billion from the overseas aid budget over three years, compounding $7.6 billion of cuts already announced. While the overseas aid budget is a tiny proportion of the overall Budget, it is also shouldering more than 20 per cent of the government’s Budget savings.

“The situation was already looking tough for some of the world’s most vulnerable, but this is a bloodbath. The impact will be inevitable and severe, and without a doubt it will fall on those in the world who can afford it the least – particularly children,” says Ian Wishart, CEO of Plan International Australia.

“We are talking about nearly $12 billion torn from overseas aid over just five years. What other key sector of our economy is being asked to take a dire hit like this?”

“Our overseas aid budget supports children across the developing world, and now we are abandoning them. How can children realise their full potential when they are undernourished or malnourished, when they are left susceptible to terrible disease, when they are left to fend for themselves in the face of disasters and wars?”

“Federal governments of both stripes have long viewed our overseas aid budget as nothing more than a convenient piggybank to be raided when a bill needs to be paid. But this myopic view overlooks a simple fact: overseas aid is not a charity to be reviled but a crucial investment to be carefully safeguarded,”

“Our economy is inextricably tied to the prosperity of the rest of the world, and overseas aid helps to create and support emerging markets – in turn promoting trade opportunities and helping to support Australian jobs.”

“Overseas aid is simply too important to be treated as a plaything by a succession of Australian governments. It is time to introduce formal oversight. It is time recognise the importance of overseas aid and demand legislation to ensure that any cuts can be properly and formally reviewed and monitored.”

“We see other forms of key spending reviewed by Parliamentary committees and subject to legislative oversight. And yet overseas aid is slashed whenever a convenient headline is needed and that’s no way to run a government.”

“We call on both sides of politics – both the Federal Government and the Federal Opposition – to support formal oversight of the overseas aid budget,” Wishart says.

“It is not just NGOs like Plan who believe in the fundamental importance of Australia’s overseas aid. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has publically recognised the crucial role overseas aid role plays for Australians,” Wishart says.

In a speech to the National Press Club in June, Minister Bishop described overseas aid as being “in Australia’s national interest”. In March, she told the Sydney Institute that foreign aid is “a key plank of economic diplomacy”.

Wishart says: “Minister Bishop clearly understands the vital role overseas aid plays in supporting Australia’s own national interests, and yet the Treasurer seems to think nothing of slashing her aid budget to buy a day’s headlines.”

“It is impossible to understand how these latest cuts ‘take the long view’. What sort of a legacy is the government leaving for the governments that will inevitably follow? How will they repair the damage being done right now?”

“The government can choose to invest now or pay later. Just look at West Africa and the Ebola crisis: investment in the region’s health system could have prevented Ebola, in turn seeing off a threat to the rest of the world.”

“As well as trashing our own national interest, we need to understand the damage cuts in overseas aid are doing to our national reputation. The rest of the world looks to Australia to play its part in the world, not bury our head in the sand. But how can we have a say in international affairs when we continue to treat our obligations with complete contempt? It’s becoming harder and harder for the rest of the world to take us seriously when we speak.”

Editors’ notes:
Plan is one of the oldest and largest children's development organisations in the world, founded 75 years ago, working in 50 developing countries across Africa, Asia and the Americas and supported by 21 donor countries. Plan is independent, with no religious, political or governmental affiliations.

Media contact: Adam Cathro, Plan International Australia, Media Relations Manager, 03 9672 3610