The Australian Government led by Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced its first budget on 13 May and took a hit in the polls. The budget saw significant reductions in spending on domestic health, education and welfare and confirmed previous cuts to Australia’s aid programme. Australian Treasurer Joe Hockey argued that the tough budget was vital for the long-term economic health of Australia, to reduce both debt and deficit. But non-government aid groups like the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) expressed concern that vulnerable communities in the region are shouldering a disproportionate share of government belt tightening.
With AUS$7.6 billion (U$7 billion) cut from planned increases in official development assistance (ODA) over four years, ACFID notes “ODA is the single largest savings area in all four years of the Budget, and accounts for 20 per cent of all savings across the forward estimates,” despite being only 1.3 per cent of total government expenditure. The Pacific Islands have been largely spared the reductions that affect other regions around the world, with total ODA increasing from $1.06 billion in 2013-14 to $1.15 billion in 2014-15. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has announced a new focus on development effectiveness and the government will soon reveal a policy statement on benchmarks for the aid programme. However the budget also includes significant spending cuts for key Australian institutions that work with Pacific partners. These include reductions for climate research and the effective closure of Australia Network TV.
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