Turnbull government makes another raid on foreign aid programme

THE Turnbull government is making another raid on Australia’s foreign aid programme taking more than $300 million (US$220 million) by introducing a temporary freeze from mid-2018.

Aid at that time will total $4.01 billion (US$2.9 billion) and remain static until indexation resumes in 2021/2022.

The government is coy on what it specifically intends to do with the $303.3 million (US$223 million) saving other than indicating it will be redirected it to ‘policy priorities’.

In the lead-up to the Tuesday’s budget there was speculation aid money would be diverted to national security and counter-terrorism efforts, including increased funding for the overseas spy agency Australian Secret Intelligence Service.

The actual amount is not detailed in the budget papers.

After stomaching $11.3 billion (US$8.38 billion) of cuts since the coalition government came to power in 2013, the latest move will not please aid organisations.

There’s little consolation in the aid budget increasing slightly next year to $3.9 billion (US$2.8 billion) from $3.8 billion (US$2.7 billion).

Ahead of the budget, Plan International Australia criticised the prospect of further cuts to aid as ‘bewildering’.

“Now all indications are that it is once more going to be used as an ATM,” chief executive Ian Wishart said.

Papua New Guinea and Fiji are set for slight decreases in their official development assistance to reflect changing circumstances.

PNG remains Australia’s largest aid recipient and will lose $4.4 million (US$3.2 million) to a total of $472.9 million (US$347 million) in 2017/2018.

Fiji will receive almost $11 million (US$8 million) less taking into account money allocated previously for Tropical Cyclone Winston, bringing its aid to $40.4 million (US$29.7 million) in next year.

Aid programmes for other countries are mostly stable.

To reflect the unprecedented number of humanitarian crises world wide the emergency fund will increase to $150 million (US$110 million), up $20 million (US$14.7 million) on the previous year.

Likewise there will be a boost to the humanitarian assistance kitty of $60 million (US$4 million) in taking it to a total of almost $400 million (US$294 million).

In other savings measures, diplomats posted overseas with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as (DFAT)well as other government agencies will have their generous allowances trimmed saving $37 million (US$27 million) over four years.

The government says the standardisation of allowances for things such as cost of living and hardship will help them better match ‘community expectations’.

The Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) – a military and police operation to restore law and order – is set to end on June 30 this year.

However, $79 million (US$58 million) over four years will be allocated to a police development programme for the Pacific island nation.