Full transcript below:
Together, in the 21st century, I'm sure all MPs can agree that no child should die from a mosquito bite, no child should ever go to bed starving, and no single person should be denied opportunity because of where they are born, the colour of their skin, their gender, their religion or who they love. All people are born equal. In a modern-day society characterised by technological advancement and interconnectedness, in an ever-globalised world, if one person anywhere has their opportunities or dreams diminished, society loses. In this modern world, therefore, it is not acceptable for a country to retreat into itself. For Australia to stay as a strong middle power, we cannot shrink in the face of global challenges, especially in our own backyard.
These are challenging times. We face threats of terrorism, displaced people, climate change, an international order threatened by the sense that globalisation is leaving far too many behind, and expanding inequality—something even Australia is not immune to; something that threatens to entrench global class disadvantage, even where hard-earned progress has been won before.
Currently, Australia's aid program is geared towards our region, towards countries like Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, the Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste and Cambodia. Taxpayer funds go towards supporting important projects: governance, because where governance is poor, development outcomes are also poor; health, like our leading role in the Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance; and education, the greatest enabler of our world's next generation.
Sadly, the Abbott and now Turnbull government is not leading when it comes to our international aid program. In the Turnbull government's most recent budget—the 2017 budget—we saw the freezing of Australia's aid budget in 2019-20 and 2020-21. These two consecutive freezes represent the fifth and sixth cuts to the foreign aid budget since the coalition came to power. The 2017 budget cut represents $303 million less in real terms, and adds to the $11.3 billion that has already been slashed from the foreign aid budget.
Despite 25 years of economic growth, Australia's international aid program has been drastically cut since the coalition took office in September 2013. The internationally agreed aid to gross national income—or GNI—target is 0.7 per cent. I'll come back to this in a moment. I wanted to mention that target to contextualise the next set of numbers I'm going to discuss: Australia's own aid to GNI percentage under the cold-hearted Turnbull government. In the last financial year, Australia's aid dropped to a paltry 0.22 per cent—our lowest ever. Remember, the international target is 0.7 per cent. Mr Deputy Speaker, if you thought that was unacceptable—which it is—the cuts I just mentioned in this year's budget will result in an even greater decline in our aid contributions. By 2021, our international aid contribution will drop to 0.2 per cent of GNI.
Before anyone argues that Australia's economic situation justifies this slashing of our aid budget, and why we need to spend $100 million or so on a postal survey, I'd like to compare our situation with another country; a country that also entered a deep recession in the aftermath of the GFC: the United Kingdom, led by a conservative government since 2010. The UK does not shy away from the 0.7 per cent international target in the face of global economic problems; it meets the target in spite of them. The former Chancellor George Osborne said this was because it was morally right, it strengthens the UK's global position, and it is compassionate. If only our conservative prime minister, Prime Minister Turnbull, could share some of the compassion of Theresa May, his conservative counterpart.
We all know the important work that our international aid programs carry out. Australia is a prosperous nation. As a good global citizen, particularly in this part of the world, in this connection between Asia and the Pacific, Australia should be playing its part in helping to reduce global poverty and inequality and in assisting the vulnerable children who need our help.
I call on Prime Minister Turnbull to not let fear, ignorance and populism and that crazy right wing of his party dictate what goes on. Do not listen to the economic doomsday theorists who fuel the fires of racism, greed and selfishness. Instead, be a Prime Minister who leads and gives a good demonstration of the compassion of the Australian people. Australia is a strong economy. We have the capacity. We can and must do more to help those in our region and across the world. We were there at the start of the United Nations and we were there as a global leader, a small power leading the world. We can revisit those days.