A surplus-at-all-costs budget

This year’s federal budget has returned a surplus at the expense of our region’s most vulnerable people. The Government’s foreign aid budget is the least generous it has ever been, falling from $5.05 billion in 2013/14 to $4 billion in 2019/20. Total aid expenditure will fall by $117 million over the next four years, with parts of the aid budget being reallocated to focus on financing infrastructure development in the Pacific.

Nearly $100 million will be cut from Australian aid to Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Nepal and Pakistan to be directed towards a $2 billion infrastructure fund for the Pacific. $500 million of the infrastructure fund will be used as grants for major infrastructure, while the rest of the fund will be used for loans.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne said in a statement that the budget was about “advancing Australia’s national interests by protecting our security and prosperity”. This is in stark contrast to previous government statements about the importance of sovereignty and avoiding an unsustainable debt burden in the Pacific.

This is the sixth year of cuts to foreign aid, which is bad news for foreign diplomacy in the Asia Pacific region, with contributions from China, New Zealand and the United Kingdom filling the status Australia once had in the region.

The Government’s cuts to Australian aid come in the wake of shadow foreign minister Penny Wong’s comments last month that a Shorten Labor government would increase development assistance and commit funds to Pacific programs.