Yesterday's media announcement that opposition leader Tony Abbott was backing an $800 million cut from the foreign aid budget to pay for his personal tax zones in northern Australia is indecent and sends a shocking message to our Pacific and Asian neighbours.
An $800 million cut if implemented would represent a 16 per cent reduction in Australia's annual aid budget.
The majority of the world's poor live in our neighbouring countries. For many of these people life will be much harsher if Tony Abbott becomes the next Australian Prime Minister and pushes ahead with this policy.
While the savage cut was disowned by the Coalition within hours of the story breaking, it is a worrying reminder of what an Abbott government could do to Australia's overseas aid programs.
Today's report is the latest sign that the Liberal and Nationals are backing away from previous commitments.
In November 2011 the Coalition voted to support a Greens motion that reaffirmed "a bipartisan commitment to increase the ODA budget to at least 0.5 per cent of GNI by 2015".
Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, in 2010 announced that "The Coalition stands by its commitment to increase foreign aid spending to 0.5 per cent of our Gross National Income by 2015-16.”
In 2000 former Australian Prime Minister John Howard agreed with other world leaders to halve the number of people living in extreme poverty by 2015.
These commitments are sounding more and more hollow. There is a real possibility that cutting the overseas aid budget could become the Coalition's first broken promise.
Australia is a wealthy country. We should be working to increase our aid contribution not redirect the aid budget to domestic programs.
Australia's aid commitment is well behind the OECD average. We are ranked 13 out of 23 wealthy OECD countries in terms of the amount of national income that goes to overseas development programs.
Mr Abbott could draw some lessons from his British counterpart David Cameron, UK Conservative Prime Minister who last year rejected a recommendation from the House of Lords’ Economics Committee that the government drop its commitment to increase the British aid budget.
The Australian Greens policy advocates for 0.7 per cent of GDP to be allocated to overseas aid programs; creating a Cabinet level minister responsible for aid and development, and establishing an Independent Office of Development Effectiveness that reports direct to Parliament.