Parliament Updates

Zali Steggall MP speaks on the Official Development Assistance Multilateral Replenishment Obligations

24 February, 2020


I rise to speak in support of this bill, the Official Development Assistance Multilateral Replenishment Obligations (Special Appropriation) Bill 2019, but I do join my voice to those urging the government to do more. Whilst this bill provides funding to meet Australia's official development assistance obligations to the various multilateral organisations that we are members of, it is also a timely reminder of the importance of Australia's international aid program.

In the last sitting week of last year, on behalf of Micah Australia many young Australians visited Parliament House to speak to us about the pressing global justice issues of our time and Australia's role in addressing them. A number of them came from my own electorate, representing community organisations and churches like Seaforth Baptist Church. I thank them for their passionate and dedicated advocacy. They respect the challenges this government faces. Australia needs strong trading partners, reliable allies and close relationships in our immediate Indo-Pacific region. Each of those is key to ensuring Australia's ongoing freedom, security and prosperity, and they do reasonably expect Australia's aid budget to help fulfil such a vision for our nation. However, they also passionately believe, as do I, that, as a nation that values fairness, kindness and compassion, Australia has a moral obligation to ensure that Australian aid is supporting the world's most poor, vulnerable and oppressed people, beyond just their strategic value, acknowledging that every life is of value and worth. The reality is that we can have both: an Australian aid budget that is strategic and moral, through a principled approach to Australian aid that is also in the national interest.

The recent announcement by the government of a review of Australia's aid program with the stated goal of developing a new plan in the coming months is welcome. But, given the government's strong focus on the Pacific region and the Pacific step-up, I certainly hope that the new aid policy that emerges from the review will seek to empower local communities in the Pacific to lead their own inclusive and sustainable development; that it will recognise the need of the most vulnerable in the region, particularly women and children; that it will recognise the impact of climate change in the Pacific, including the increasing risks and impact of natural disasters; and that it will ensure the Pacific step-up is not at the cost of stepping down somewhere else in the world.

But we also need to look at the amount of funding allocated to our aid budget. This year we saw the sixth consecutive cut to the aid budget. The aid budget remains frozen at $4 billion per annum over the forward estimates. As a proportion of our gross national income, aid spending has now fallen to 0.21 per cent. As the Reverend Tim Costello has said on many occasions, Australia's aid budget should not be used by the government as an ATM to withdraw from the poor every time it needs to balance the budget.

Earlier this year, the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, as part of its inquiry into Australia's aid budget, recommended that the government increase our aid funding to at least 0.5 per cent of gross national income within five years, and then to 0.7 per cent of GNI within 10 years, and that, like the UK aid budget, this be legislated so as to prevent an ATM approach. We must be able to be more compassionate and generous, especially with our Pacific neighbours. The government has not yet responded to that bipartisan report, so I add my voice to those urging the government to consider the committee's recommendations favourably and respond accordingly. On behalf of Warringah, I thank all those young people who visited at the end of last year to add their compassionate voices to many others from around Australia.