Do we spend a motser on foreign aid – or is it just a snip?

How much does wealthy Australia spend on helping its less well-off neighbours? Twenty per cent of the federal budget? Ten per cent? Five per cent?

A poll by the Lowy Institute released this week found that, on average, Australians believe we spend 14 per cent of the budget on foreign aid. In fact, it’s about 1 percent – a figure condemned by charities and NGOs addressing multiple humanitarian crises around the world.

Since 2013, under Coalition government, spending on foreign aid has been slashed by 30 per cent, and, proportionally , is now at its lowest level ever. Yet some Sydney commuters, interviewed by Hatch, said they believed it was still excessive.

“Australia’s money should go to Australian people,” said one. Another commented: “I think it’s fine. Our tax should be put into helping Australia, not the rest of the world.”

As a result of the cuts, Australia fell down the international table of 30 most developed nations, to 19th place, in 2017, according to the latest survey by the OECD (Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development).

Australia’s dwindling percentage of Gross National Income (GNI) spent on Official Development Assistance (ODA), or overseas aid.  Credit: Foreign Aid Tracker

Amy Lamoin, director of policy and advocacy at UNICEF, the UN children’s agency, believes the budget cuts will make it harder to stave off humanitarian crises.

“The problem with decreasing Overseas Development Assistance budgets is that it makes it increasingly difficult to fund responses that prevent humanitarian crises developing or becoming more acute,” she said. 

According to the OECD, net ODA rose in 11 member countries in 2017, but fell in 18 countries, with Australia among those recording the largest drops.

Not everyone approves of the cuts. One Sydney commuter was horrified to learn that Australia spends only about 1 per cent of its budget on foreign aid. “Only 1 per cent! I thought it would be more.”

Another said: “It’s disgusting. We should be a leader in world peace, not standing back and doing nothing.”

Australia did respond generously to the recent Rohingya refugee criss in Myanmar/Bangladesh, donating $15 million to aid organisations for that specific purpose.

However, Ms Lamoin observed: Although it is tremendously important to acknowledge the generosity of the Australian government’s recent contributions to the Rohingya refugee crisis in Bangladesh, it is equally important to note the importance of ongoing overseas aid investment as a way to mitigate crisis and crisis escalation.”

Interestingly, the Lowy Institute found that, on average, Australians believe we should be devoting 10 per cent of the budget to overseas aid – ten times more than is currently spent. – @KamiliaHannaV1, editing by Kathy Marks