Do Australians really want to cut aid?

UNICEF Australia director Tim O’Connor writes: Re. “Essential: voters want aid, arts spending cut to curtail debt” (yesterday). The latest eMC poll suggesting only 24% of Australians would defend Australia’s aid budget from cuts can be viewed in three ways.

The first being the poll is wrong. Every poll taken on support for the Australian aid program for the past two decades has shown that Australians overwhelmingly support aid. This recent one showed more than 75% of young people are on the aid train — slightly less than the halcyon days of foreign minister Alexander Downer, where he crowed 85% of Aussies supported our aid, because “Australians believe we should give aid to look after those less fortunate, for humanitarian and moral reasons, and because Australia is wealthy and can afford it”. Still, it’s a pretty standout show of support that makes the preferred PM polling look pretty flimsy.

The second possibility is more worrying. Could it be the isolationist approach the major parties have adopted to the intractable issue of asylum seekers is seeping into the public mind and denigrating our approach to supporting the world’s most vulnerable people? The evidence of more than 2 million households financially supporting aid organisations and the almost 100,000 people who have written to our elected leaders this year to keep the aid promise of 0.5% of GNI by 2015 would suggest not.

The third and most likely possibility is that this poll is the latest in the attention-seeking, look-at-me tradition of so much modern media.

Aid has great benefits for Australia and the world. More than 14,000 children under five survive every day compared with just 20 years ago. Largely due to trained midwives, immunisation, bed nets, etc, these improved health outcomes have a very significant role in growing GDP — and for all those worried about population growth, for every year a mother gets to go to school it reduces the number of children she will go on to give birth to, another big aid success.

Additionally, if Australia cut its aid program from $5.8 billion today to zero, it would have virtually no impact on the expected debt of $370 billion PEFO says we face in 2016. In fact less than 1.5% of the government’s total budget  goes on aid ($5.7 billion), compared with four times that being spent on defence, six times more being spent on education ($30 billion) 10 times that spent on health ($64.6 billion), and aid is just 1/24th of what we allocate to social security and welfare ($138 billion).

Of course such polling does provide a neat headline, and thus like so many polls, it has fulfilled its shallow mandate.

FBT rorts

Barrie O’Shea writes: Re. “Get Fact: fringe benefit changes” (yesterday). The Australian Salary Packaging Industry Association ads on TV and in print either mention or show pictures of tradies, implying they they will be hit by the changes to FBT. Strange then that the ATO website lists virtually every ute on sale in Australia as free of FBT. Meanwhile, all those $100,000 SUVs doing the school run are presumably paid for out of after-tax dollars. Not.

My accountant tells me that he has a client who claims 95% business use on his Mercedes convertible. He is not an estate agent.

ASPIA is in such poor shape that they can afford a $10 million political campaign. Should they change their name to ARIA? The Australian Rorting Industry Association?

Beneath the surface

Jackie French writes: Re. “Rundle: Barnaby’s giving it his all for a hopeless cause” (yesterday). Guy Rundle writes: “The harsh truth for rural Australia is that, in purely economic terms, there are whole swathes of it we don’t need any more, and whole regions could move to a ‘fly-in-fly-out’ model if they so chose.”

Possibly, but which areas “don’t we need any more”, and which regions have more value than the minerals below them? We won’t know until a local cost benefit analysis is added to the  development process. Is good farmland being threatened? The base line data does not exist.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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