Foreign Aid-Why Should We Care?

So the Federal budget has been announced. Of course, within hours, the memes and the hashtags had appeared. And within a day or two, I’d had the online argument that I’ve had a few times before. Should we be spending more on foreign aid? Or less? One of my Facebook friends insists that we as a nation shouldn’t be spending a cent on foreign aid until we take care of our own first-more spending on pensions, reducing our debt, increasing spending on health care and education, etc. This is despite the fact that our foreign aid is now at a historic low. As a percentage of our gross national income, we’ve never spent so little on foreign aid.

The budget announcement of some modest tax cuts (around $10 per week for low income earners) has led to the hashtag #keepmytendollars trending, with people asking the Government to keep their $10 and use it for things such as domestic violence services, or adding dental to Medicare. I’d like the government to #keepmytendollars and spend it on foreign aid. Ok, I might be a bleeding heart liberal, but I really think there are important reasons that we as a nation should be more generous. What are these reasons, I hear you ask, oh very dogmatic Facebook friend. (Just kidding,I’m sure you have no interest at all in my opinion. But I’m going to tell you anyway!) Here are just a few reasons why I believe that foreign aid is important.

  1. Foreign aid is an investment in a peaceful and stable future.

Inequality and poverty lead to violence and extremism. This is supported by some research (see here and here), but it also seems to be a no brainer. If a person has nothing to loose, they have more reason to fall into extremist ideologies, or commit violence, especially against those they see as ‘having it all’. If we want our world to be more peaceful and stable in the future, with less extremism and violence, then we should invest in alleviating poverty and disadvantage in other countries (as well as our own, of course). This is certainly a contested point-researching this lead me down a rabbit hole of conflicting opinions. However it does seem that many perpetrators of terrorist acts against Western countries are from countries plagued by poverty (such as Yemen and Somalia) and groups with extremist ideologies (such as ISIS) flourish in countries with a lot of inequality, as well as in places where the education system is poor. There are exceptions to this, of course-wealthy Saudi Arabia, for example, with its extreme brand of Islam, Wahabism. On the whole, though, countries with less poverty and less inequality (and better systems of education) are more stable and safe.

  1. Don’t want our country flooded with immigrants and refugees?We need to put our money where our mouths are. It seems to me that it’s the same group of people who want to stop immigrants coming into our country and don’t want to spend any money to make the world a better place so that people don’t have to leave their homelands. As the poet Warsan Shire writes, “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark…” (For the record, I think immigration and accepting refugees is important and leads to a stronger, more diverse country.)
  2. Foreign aid gives us the opportunity to shape the world the way that we want it to become. Want to live in a world where children don’t die of preventable diseases? Where everyone has access to education? And clean water? Where women don’t die in childbirth, and everyone has opportunities to achieve their potential? How about a world where people who are affected by natural disasters have access to quick and life saving relief and support? This is the 21st Century. Surely in this age of technology and scientific advancement, we shouldn’t have 5000 children dying every day, world wide, from a lack of clean water and proper sanitation.   
  3. It’s our responsibility as a rich nation.

Oh, but what about looking after our own? Yes, let’s do that, of course. Let’s increase funding for mental health services, and domestic violence services, for education and health care and for God’s sake, let’s increase Newstart to a bloody livable level. How are we going to fund all of this? Well by now, you’ve probably worked out that I’m almost a communist, so of course I’m going to say ‘tax the rich more’. We’re one of the most wealthy countries in the world (number 18 in the world, if you’re going by GDP per capita) so surely we can afford to both look after our own and be generous?

  1. It’s the right thing to do.

We teach our children generosity and sharing. We- fairly universally-uphold the qualities of generosity, unselfishness and fairness as being good, worthwhile things. People who embody these characteristics are seen as ‘good people’. Why do different standards apply for nations? You could certainly argue that it is a matter for individual generosity, and the not for profit sector to address, rather than the government. Individual not for profits can operate without the huge bureaucracy of the entire government. I believe that the private sector and government working together are going to be most effective addressing a range of needs.  Yes, we should all be generous, but the government can’t abdicate their responsibilities and leave it all up to charities.

Ok, that’s five reasons. Good enough? If not, how about we give more because other prosperous nations are doing it. According to Oxfam, Australia’s aid budget ranks a low 19th out of the 29 wealthy OECD member nations, despite the fact that we have one of the highest per capita incomes in the world.  Even our little neighbor, New Zealand, is currently planning a 30% increase in foreign aid spending. The bulk of this aid is going to go towards development in the Pacific region-meaning they’re heavily invested in a stable and secure future for the region. They’re onto something, those Kiwis.

Back to our budget. We’re not spending much on foreign aid (or on increasing welfare for those in our own nation who are living on the poverty line). So what are we doing with the budget? Of course, there are a lot of good things that we spend our money on here at home. Then there are questionable things-like $48.7 million to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s voyages to the South Pacific and Australia in 1770. Come on now. Sure, he was a decent explorer, but he’s also a symbol of our colonial past, and of the dispossession and genocide that Indigenous people faced-do we really need to commemorate that part of our history? Let’s use that money for foreign aid, and build a better future instead.

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