Australia's aid charities need clarity over cuts

Published on The Guardian website on Monday 13 January 2014

By Tim Costello, World Vision Australia chief executive

Since announcing their $4.5bn cut to Australia’s aid program, the Federal Government have insisted that it is all about ensuring our aid dollars are effectively deployed in the service of Australia’s best interests. In most cases this appears to boil down to encouraging economic development in our poorest neighbours.

But predictability of funding is critical to maximising aid effectiveness – effective planning of aid programs and implanting agencies such as NGOs takes time and resources. For this reason predictable, guaranteed funding is always a key component of international aid effectiveness agreements.

The current uncertainties surrounding exactly where the federal government is going to find its savings within Australia’s aid budget – leaving aside the wisdom of slashing nearly 20% of a programme that constitutes just 1.4% of the federal budget – means aid charities such as World Vision have been left in the lurch, and with them the communities they had already committed and invested in key programs designed to improve and in some cases save lives.

Although World Vision Australia (WVA) receives most of its funding from Australian’s generous commitment to helping others, it still relies on the Australian government to effectively deliver aid and relief programs to millions of those living in poverty across the globe. This is even more true for many others working in the development sector in Australia, who are making an effective and important contribution to alleviating global poverty.

For World Vision, the uncertainty is making planning difficult and is impacting on some of our most innovative programs. For example World Vision Australia was successful in applying for funding under the Civil Society Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Fund. However, the fund has been on hiatus since November, while priorities for the aid program are reviewed. No implementation funding has been received and there has been no confirmation of whether or not this program will proceed.

WVA has already invested significant time and resources in this project and our country partners, particularly the host governments, are deeply saddened to learn that their efforts to improve basic infrastructure, health and quality of life for the most vulnerable groups within their communities may be at risk. The fund was poised to impact the lives and health of over half million people.

The Australian government has made its intention clear that economic development will be an overarching priority for the aid program. However health and education are not in competition with economic development; rather investing in healthy, educated children living in safe communities is foundational to our efforts to develop more productive and competitive economies. Further, strengthening systems for the delivery of basic services is critical to strong, effective governments and societies and strengthens democratic legitimacy and participation.

WVA believes that the Australian aid program could make greater use of Australian NGO networks and skills to reach the poorest and most vulnerable people in communities. We look forward to certainty emerging so we continue the strong partnership we have with the Australian government.

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