Increase in the aid budget welcome, with continued investment in gender equality and the Pacific

Australia’s federal budget, released last night, includes a welcome $324.4 million for the Pacific and Timor-Leste for COVID-19 recovery, continuing the temporary measures from last year. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has announced that more than $500 million of $1.5 billion allocated to gender equality will be spent in the Pacific.

The Australian Aid budget for 2022-23 will total $4.545 billion up from $4.46 billion in 2021-22 This increase for next financial year is welcome, but the coalition budget still foreshadows substantial decreases in the aid budget in future years. This puts long term development and relationships with key stakeholders at risk.

A new gender equality program “Women Together” will allocate $300m to South East Asia between 2022 and 2027. This program will focus on building women’s economic empowerment, increasing women’s leadership in regional peace and stability and realising women’s and girls’ rights focused on violence prevention.

DFAT’s Pacific Women Lead program will also receive $170m between 2022 and 2027. Pacific Women Lead highlights Australia’s commitment to partnerships for gender equality in the Pacific region, continues to promote women’s leadership, realise women’s rights, and increase the effectiveness of regional gender equality efforts in the Pacific.

The Pacific Step up remains prominent, with Minister for International Development and the Pacific Zed Seselja noting that the Government will deliver a record $1.85 billion in official development assistance to the Pacific in 2022-23. “Australia is the Pacific’s largest development partner, security partner of choice, and most importantly, we are family,” Minister Seselja said.

MSI Asia Pacific Regional Director Chris Turner said, “We are pleased to see gender equality and health programs remaining a focus in this budget, which highlights the importance of our ongoing work to support women’s empowerment and sexual and reproductive health.”

“Sexual and reproductive health and rights are crucial to overall development. Giving women and their families the ability to have children by choice, not chance is vital to both reaching gender equality but also quality of life,” he said.

The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) has called on the Australian government to make the temporary and targeted measures into permanent increases in the aid budget.

The CEO of ACFID, Mark Purcell said:

“We welcome the new assistance to the Pacific to battle the COVID-19 downturn.

“But the development reversals created by COVID-19 will last over a decade. Our Pacific relationships are not temporary – and our funding model needs to reflect this.

“We need to continue to increase our investments in long-term, quality development programming to lift the livelihoods of people across the region. ”

ACFID has also welcomed the continuation of temporary and targeted measures for economic and social costs of COVID-19 in the Pacific and Timor-Leste ($281m) and Southeast Asia ($61.5m) and encourages the Government to ensure this package has a strong focus on social inclusion and protection.