Australia's foreign aid diverted to on-shore asylum programs

The Edmund Rice Centre has rejected the Government’s decision to divert $375 million dollars of foreign aid - to be allocated to the living expenses of asylum seekers on-shore in Australia.

“We reject not only this cut in foreign aid but also the attempts to explain it as nothing more than adjusted accounting practices,” stated Edmund Rice Centre director, Phil Glendenning.

“The funding commitment to foreign aid was $5.2 billion, but under this change $375 million will now be diverted to cover the living costs of asylum seekers within Australia. So in real terms this is a cut of just over 7%.”

“At a time when there are increasing global needs this is not what we expect Australia’s foreign aid program to look like. The market price that Australia receives for our iron-ore exports has risen dramatically in recent months. Expectations are that the income from coal exports will also soon rise with China’s increased demand. In this context this is a time to increase our commitment to the poor of the world – not decrease it,” he affirmed.

“Overseas aid is meant to be used for the poorest people on earth and for the purposes of development assistance in overcoming hunger and poverty, while improving health, gender equality, and education,” Mr Glendenning said.

“To use the foreign aid budget for the purposes of addressing the domestic needs of the Australian government is most unfortunate - particularly coming at a time when Australia has just taken a seat at the UN Security Council. Part of the pitch that Australia made when lobbying for votes for the Security Council was our strong commitment to foreign development aid.”

“The precedent set in this matter is of great concern. This measure has opened the door for future ‘reductions-by-slight-of-hand’ in the foreign aid budget – such that we may see other domestic expenditure items being ‘re-categorised’ as ‘foreign aid’,” he said.

“Australians see our taxation system as a duty. We stipulate that it needs to be ‘progressive’ – structured to redress inequities. So too, we need to see our aid budget not as charity, but rather as just a small part of Australia’s duty as a responsible participant in our global community of nations.”

“To meet the needs of refugees in this country the answer is pretty simple: provide them with work rights - rather than preventing them from working,” he stated.

“Australia’s aid budget must be for poverty eradication, not for resolving the Government’s political need to achieve a budget surplus. The poor of the world should not have to pay the price of this Government’s political ambition to produce a minimal surplus. Our aid budget is not for fixing Australia’s domestic political issues.”

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