Treasurer Josh Frydenberg reminded Australians on budget night that “we live in uncertain times”. Yet the 2022-23 aid budget lacks the long-term funding and forward planning to support this sentiment.
Despite the increasing likelihood of a security agreement between China and the Solomon Islands, the ongoing pandemic and more frequent and intense climate disasters, Australia’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) Budget continues to sit at around $4 billion. Aside from ODA, the government has announced $460 million in temporary measures like vaccine delivery to the Pacific. This brings the total unofficial aid budget to $4.549 billion, about $289 million more than what was flagged in the budget last year.
In the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2022-23 Budget includes $314 million in temporary ODA over two years for Pacific Island nations. This funding is earmarked for vaccinations, COVID-19 crisis support and the aviation sector, helping to reopen borders and revive tourism.
Although this funding (and more) is needed to support the Pacific’s response to COVID-19, the Morrison government has failed to address the deep-rooted issue that poses the greatest threat to “our Pacific family”: climate change.
Australia’s climate finance commitments remain well below its international fair share. Even after increasing its climate financing contribution to $2 billion over 2020-2025, including $700 million to the Pacific. Climate finance also continues to come from within Australia’s aid budget, adding pressure to aid funding, which at 0.19 per cent of Gross National Income (GNI) is already well below Australia’s commitment of 0.7 per cent of GNI.
The 2022-23 Budget also includes a $65.2 million commitment to construct and maintain a new Australian High Commission chancery in the Solomon Islands. This funding comes amid fears of a security pact being signed between the Solomon Islands and China, which has raised concerns about regional security. This security pact, sponsored by the Solomons Prime Minister Sogavare, and other Pacific leaders’ mounting criticism of Australia, are the price Australia is paying for its years of neglect of the Pacific community.
This budget will not ameliorate Australia’s image in the Pacific, or even secure Australia’s strategic interests in the short term.
If the federal government was serious about preparing for these ‘uncertain times’, it would significantly boost its foreign aid assistance and meaningfully engage on climate change. Instead, the federal election blinkers remain firmly in place.