The 2019-2020 Budget “paints a fraught picture of Australia’s role and ability to positively impact on global health – in terms of what we’re spending through the aid budget – but there is some pleasing news” said Misha Coleman, Executive Director of the Global Health Alliance. The Morrison Government has only allocated $4 billion to Official Development Assistance, a decrease of a further $117 million from last year’s budget line. This is disappointing given the socio-economic burden of ill-health across our region. Only with marked increases in real spending on aid and development will we be able to enable positive change in global health outcomes.
She went on to say that “on the up side, it’s pleasing to see an additional $5 billion being allocated to the Medical Research Futures Fund – most importantly, an increased investment into tackling drug-resistant tuberculosis and antimicrobial resistance (AMR). We know that if left unchecked, Asia is expected to have the highest death rates from AMR in the world by 2050”.
Other pleasing initiatives include efforts to make Australia the preferred destination for clinical trials, as well as a commitment to more actively participate in the governance of the World Health Organisation as a member of the WHO Executive Board.
But back to the aid budget – there is a shift in aid flows to South Pacific countries, now receiving a record $1.4 billion. Meanwhile, South and Southeast Asia have been relatively overlooked. This risks obscuring our engagement and impact in these countries. Moreover, the Morrison Government’s strategic agenda behind the Pacific-focus means this investment might poorly reflect the actual needs of people living in these areas. For example, the impact of climate change on health is a critical challenge for low-lying Pacific nations.
Moreover, some $500 million is allocated to the Government’s Australian Infrastructure Financing Facility for the Pacific over four years. While the total global health component continues to be analysed, it is concerning that major infrastructure projects could potentially have sucked up significant funding dedicated to other health development initiatives in Asia.
As Save the Children CEO Paul Ronalds noted, “infrastructure, on its own, will not ensure the Pacific reaches its full economic potential… Malnutrition poses one of the greatest threats to the survival and development of over half a million children in PNG.”
On the other hand, an increase in humanitarian assistance from $400 to $450 million is welcome and much needed.
The ongoing inability of the Australian Government to meaningfully invest in quality global health and development programs will inevitably undermine the entire aid portfolio and render Australia’s contribution to global health under-resourced and ultimately ineffective. Relative reductions in spending jeopardise the good work of Australian organisations in this space.
Many in the Australian global health and international development community have noted the deficit in Australia’s impact that will result. For example, Oxfam Australia’s Chief Executive Dr Helen Szoke stated that “it is a selfish, narrow-minded Budget that does nothing to position Australia as a nation [which] does its fair share in our region, or the world”.