Missing an opportunity for Australian leadership

3 min read
Image: WaterAid/Tom Greenwood

WaterAid Australia believes last night’s 2018-19 Federal Budget further undermines Australia’s credibility as an international development actor.

Locking in further reductions to foreign aid over the forward estimates at a time when the Federal Budget shows robust growth, enabling the government to increase spending and cut income tax, demonstrates a lack of vision for, and priority given to, Australian aid. While there are good individual measures in the latest aid budget, this does not compensate for the extensive cuts which have seen aid spending decline by 32 percent in real terms since 2013-14.

This reduction comes at a time when the Australian Government has been demonstrating policy leadership on the world stage. Over the last two years Prime Minister Turnbull has sat on the UN-World Bank High Level Panel on Water which has called for global action to ensure every person has access to the basic rights of water, sanitation, and hygiene. At a meeting of the panel in September 2017 the Prime Minister stated “the inability to manage water resources effectively puts millions, billions indeed, at risk. And of course, even more lack access to clean water. This is a very, very big agenda. Water is the source of life, it’s central to human development.”

Unfortunately, the Australian Government has failed to match policy rhetoric with investment, with 2018-19 aid funding for water, sanitation and hygiene slashed to almost half of the previous year’s spending. More broadly this failure is highlighted by the fact that aid as a percentage of Gross National Income – a globally-applied measure of generosity – continues to fall to record lows and will by 2021-22 reach 0.19%, a level equivalent to that of crisis-hit Spain.

“WaterAid Australia believes that the Federal Government must lift the overall level of investment in Australia aid, in line with the call from our peers in the OECD,” stated Rosie Wheen, WaterAid Australia Chief Executive. “There must also be a higher level of commitment to addressing the Sustainable Development Goals.”

“Specifically relating to investment in water, sanitation and hygiene, WaterAid is calling on the Federal Government to commit to developing a long-term Water for Development Strategy, which transforms the water, sanitation, and hygiene crisis in our region into an opportunity to address critical human development, gender, economic, environmental, climate and health issues through achievement of Sustainable Development Goal 6 for clean water and sanitation, and its associated targets.”

“The Australian Government has the building blocks for a long-term strategy – but it needs to lift its ambition and maximise its influence and capacity to catalyse change in our region.”

“Given our own experience managing complex water challenges, Australia should be a global leader on Sustainable Development Goal 6. However, we are at the moment failing to deliver, with last night’s Federal Budget only reinforcing this failure,” concluded Ms Wheen.