Federal budget promises temporary Pacific boost

Australia’s federal budget, released last night, saw promising aid commitments for the Pacific and Timor Leste.

An additional $304.7 million COVID-10 Recovery Fund was announced, in addition to the previously announced $4 billion aid budget.

Gender equality initiatives received a dedicated $65 million, which includes continued support for first responders assisting Pacific women and their children who are experiencing violence; and for women’s small and medium enterprises in Southeast Asia to manage the impact of the pandemic and contribute to the resilience of local economies.

Federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg told Parliament yesterday “COVID-19 has resulted in the most severe global economic crisis since the Great Depression. Across the world the equivalent of 600 million people have lost their jobs.

“The global economy is expected to contract by 4.5% this year compared to just 0.1% during the Global Financial Crisis.”

The government’s announced support in the Asia Pacific is aimed at tackling the health, social and economic costs of COVID-19. This includes a commitment to secure and deliver COVID-19 vaccines to our neighbours in the Pacific, Timor Leste and Southeast Asia.

“Facilitating early access to safe, effective and affordable vaccines will save lives and underpin Australia’s security by promoting regional stability and economic recovery,” said Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne.

MSI Asia Pacific’s Regional Director Chris Turner said, ”Gender equality and health programs have remained a focus, which highlights the importance of our ongoing work to support women’s empowerment and sexual and reproductive health.”

The $304.7 million COVID-19 Recovery Fund aims to address the economic and social costs of the pandemic in the Pacific and Timor Leste. However, this one-off payment is in addition to the previously announced $4 billion Official Development Assistance program and is not part of an ongoing aid commitment.

ACFID CEO Marc Purcell said: “Australia’s recovery is linked to the region’s and Asia needs to know that we are with them. We are looking to the Government to continue on this path, lock in these temporary increases and expand our development cooperation in Asia as part of the May 2021 budget.

“The COVID-19 Recovery Fund is a welcome one-off investment at this time of crisis. But we continue to hold the view that Australia’s overall Official Development Assistance budget should increase so we can maintain the hard-won development gains which are now at risk due to the pandemic.”