Yesterday Treasurer Joe hockey announced that next year’s international aid budget would be slashed by $1 billion. This decision marked much more than the cutting of the aid budget. It marked the end of the idea that Australia could play a significant role in bringing extreme poverty to a halt.

In the last decade a revolution occurred in the Australian aid program. Inspired by the Millennium Development Goals, first the Howard government then the Rudd government started to increase both the volume of aid Australia offered to the world’s poorest countries and the quality of the aid. We started to measure our aid program by its effectiveness in things like reducing child mortality, improving people’s access to clean drinking water, and halting the spread of infectious diseases.

For years Australia had held an “aspirational” goal of lifting its aid program to 0.7% of our national income. But “aspirational” really meant “ignored”. In 2007 that changed when Kevin Rudd announced the ALP would lift aid to 0.5% of national income by the year 2015. The Coalition embraced the same goal and we embarked on an era of bipartisan commitment to substantial increases in the quality and the quantity of Australian aid.

In the last couple of years this commitment stumbled. The target date for reaching 0.5% was pushed out by a few years, but yesterday Joe hockey brought the idea of achieving this target to an end. Not only did he announce that aid would be slashed, but the principle he articulated was that aid would be returned to the levels it was when it was last funded out of surplus and that into the future increases would be made in line with the consumer price index. As a result the aid program as a proportion of national income will soon fall to 0.21%, the lowest level in more than 50 years, and will remain parked there.

What a monumental failure! If the past 15 years have shown anything, they’ve shown that well targeted, well-managed aid investments can result in wonderful outcomes. Who can’t be excited by the fact that child mortality rates have plummeted, the number of children in school has risen, income poverty has been slashed, hundreds of millions of people have access to clean drinking water? Australian aid played a part in making that possible.

Yesterday’s announcement did much more than massively reduce the aid program. It marked the end of Australia’s commitment to a growing aid program. It marked the end of the idea that we could help bring extreme poverty to a halt. Apparently we have much more important things to do.

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