Faruqi' We must bring our aid back up to at least meet the UN's target

Senator Mehreen Faruqi (New South Wales) (BILLS - Official Development Assistance Multilateral Replenishment Obligations (Special Appropriation) Bill 2019 - Second Reading: 

Faruqi: I rise to speak to the Official Development Assistance Multilateral Replenishment Obligations (Special Appropriation) Bill 2019. The bill provides funds to existing and future official development assistance multilateral replenishment obligations. The Greens support this bill, but the government needs to do much more. We are living through a global pandemic with the entire world impacted. We are set to face, as a global community, social and economic consequences at a massive scale which will be felt ever more deeply in the global south.

Wealthy nations like ours have a responsibility to share capacity, information and resources so that other countries have a fighting chance of withstanding this crisis and recovering from it. Sadly, the recent repurposing of our already shrinking aid budget is a signal the coalition government is moving further away from the global community and retreating from its responsibilities. The government should increase rather than repurpose aid to our immediate neighbours so we can come through stronger. The government should also cancel the debt owed to us by Pacific countries. I'm glad to see the Australian government committing to using its leverage at the International Financial Institutions for financial support packages in the Pacific, but this needs to go further. We should be lobbying for debt forgiveness. We live in a grossly unequal world, and we have an obligation to contribute to the global and ongoing response that this pandemic requires—and beyond. Australia has a crucial leadership role to play, and this involves continuing to fund multilateral organisations and work to ensure a strong international effort.

It is a shame then that we have seen the right-wing of politics in our country following in the footsteps of US President Donald Trump and attacking organisations like the World Health Organization. Divisive leaders will not get us on the other side of this. Closed-minded politicians will not get us on the other side of this, but our collective global community work will. This is a time when Australia must recognise and foster our global community with the understanding that we are all truly in this together. It's not just one country; it is all of us. This is a time to show leadership. This is a time to build a global community that can face threats such as this in the future. It is also a time to move in solidarity towards a recovery.

Australia's aid and development funding is pitifully low. In fact, it is the lowest it has been in decades. Our aid budget has been cut by 25 per cent since 2013. This is abysmal. It is a real shame that we are not willing to play our part in addressing the vast social, economic, environmental and health inequalities that exist across the world. The impact of COVID-19 will mean millions upon millions more people will fall into poverty in the global south, undoing decades of work fighting against poverty. Our aid is at a dismal level of less than 0.2 per cent of our gross national income, which is well below the OECD average. We must bring our aid back up to at least meet the United Nations' target of 0.7 per cent of our GNI.

We know public health systems are desperately underfunded and ill equipped in many countries. These countries—already low income countries—will be disproportionately affected by the crisis, with social and economic costs of lockdowns and shutdowns far greater than we could imagine. In addition to increasing our aid budget, we must also act immediately to provide emergency funding to countries in the global south to bolster their health, social and economic response.

The climate emergency looms large in the landscape of global inequality. Given Australia's 'dirty hands' in producing climate-changing emissions, we have a special responsibility to do everything we can for climate justice. The longer we wait, the greater the loss of life and the greater the threat to the world as we know it. Those who have contributed least to the climate emergency we face are often the hardest hit—by rising sea levels, extreme weather events and environmental change. Australia must provide climate reparations to affected countries and communities that are commensurate with its historical and ongoing contribution to the problem. Our aid programs must include mitigation, adaptation, and resilience building, with a focus on addressing the particular needs and challenges facing women and girls. Australia must not forget its Pacific neighbours in this public health crisis or in the climate crisis. Health systems in the region are already at risk of stretching to breaking point, and a full-blown outbreak could cause serious economic disaster. Climate change is already causing serious havoc to our Pacific neighbours. Australia should release new, targeted funding to add capacity to health systems and towards whatever other needs our Pacific Island nations have. This is a time to be working with our global partners to achieve a truly global response and to be prepared for the future. This is a time to be committing more, not less, to our foreign aid program.

While we are on the topic of our Pacific neighbours, I do want to bring up the comments made by the Minister for International Development and the Pacific which were reported in The Guardian. The comments criticised the people who attended the Black Lives Matter protests in Australia and called the Black Lives Matter protests 'self-indulgent'. This just shows how out of touch Minister Hawke is with the deep systemic and structural racism, the discrimination and the calls for equality that the protesters and black and brown people and other indigenous people are demanding—racism and discrimination from which they have suffered for centuries, including those who live in the Pacific. Minister Hawke and the Prime Minister and their government need to listen. They need to learn. They need to heed these calls and act immediately to dismantle systems of racial discrimination and violence against First Nations people and people of colour.

At this time of crisis we must start to think transformatively about our foreign aid program. As we move to recovery, we must not forget that our foreign aid program is central to it. We must re-imagine foreign aid: not simply as charity but as an issue of global justice; not as a way to further our own national ambitions but as a way to right historic wrongs; and not as a way to further our greedy trade interests but as a way to build communities in parts of the world that have been left destitute. Australia has an obligation, particularly as a wealthy country and given its colonial past, to contribute to a just and equitable world by working with communities in the global south to alleviate poverty and to promote human rights and access to essential services such as health care and education. This is an obligation that we must take seriously as we move into the recovery phase and beyond.

Attribution: Parliament of Australia Website

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