Tuesday, March 24, 2015
Vanuatu's Cyclone Pam disaster exposes aid cuts Hamish McDonald The Saturday Paper March 21, 2015
Illegals undermine seasonal labour; Asia-Pacific policy adrift; Israel election.
A father and son amid the ruins of their home in Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila.
Vanuatu’s distress from the direct impact of a level-five cyclone will quickly disappear from news reports, if it hasn’t already. And no doubt the cruise ships will soon be back in Port Vila for their passengers to buy the souvenirs knocked up by locals to earn some cash.
Cyclone Pam has come at an awkward time for the Abbott government, however. Its savage cuts to the aid budget announced by Treasurer Joe Hockey in his midyear adjustments in December are due to take about $1 billion from the current $5 billion in the 2015-16 fiscal year. This is the largest-ever slash to Australia’s aid program, and will be followed by further cuts. By 2016-17 the aid budget will be 33 per cent below the level set before Abbott took over.
The question now is whether Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will sacrifice even more of her turf in the upcoming budget, as Hockey still seems to be trying to pursue fiscal consolidation at the same time Abbott has dumped many of the last budget’s savings and is talking of putting money in family pockets ahead of election year. Cutting foreign aid is an easy option.
So far Bishop’s managed to keep the aid programs in Asia and the Pacific largely intact, by cutting programs further afield in places such as Latin America and Africa and by the administrative savings of merging the formerly separate AusAID into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. But with 92 per cent of our aid now going to the near region, principally to Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, and large humanitarian crises such as Syria making demands, the scope for further cuts looks limited without eating seriously into Canberra’s ‘soft’ strategic power.
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