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Australian Aid groups ‘forced to break promises to world’s poor’

Australian aid groups say the country’s international reputation is being trashed as they inform donor-countries that they are closing programmes due to budget cuts.

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In December, the federal government announced a cut of $1 billion to the aid budget, which represents 20 per cent of aid spending. Aid projects funded by government but delivered by non-government providers such as World Vision and Plan face closure or downgrading.

Last month Foreign Minister Julie Bishop fought off further attempts by senior government figures to cut the aid budget.

World Vision Australia CEO Tim Costello told SBS that the cuts undermined the government’s aid goals and had a huge impact on people in need.

“We have had to cut $5 million in programmes and will close in Senegal around child-protection programmes. In Lebanon were are making ‘Sophie’s Choice’ decisions between cutting health or education or child protection. It is simply devastating to ring national directors and tell them this,” Reverend Costello said.

“The really sad thing is we are breaking promises to the world’s poorest because really promises have been broken here to us. A billion dollars cut from the aid programme means we are all impacted.”

World Vision Australia has informed donors and today made public cuts confirmed to projects in Kenya, Senegal, South Sudan, Uganda, India and Laos. Decision on funding of domestic violence, education and health programmes in East Timor, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Island will be confirmed over the next week.

Plan International told SBS it would be cutting back the “Action for Children” project in Ethiopia that was due to reach more than 4000 children this year.

Plan is also reducing an “Empowering Families” programme in Cambodia. In a statement, Plan said: “We had been hoping to extend this project, but can now only maintain where we are. That means we will not reach the anticipated 8,500 families – around 45,000 people – we had been planning to reach. We will continue to work with families we have already reached in the coming financial year, after which the project is essentially finished for us.”

Plan is also cutting its Cambodian vocation training programme.

Reverend Costello says it was a sad day for Australian aid.

“This is harsh. It is not who we are. It really begs the question of what sort of nation we are now when we can do this,” he said.

“In our near neighbourhood, PNG, East Timor, Vanuatu we will be making cuts to programmes that get girls educated, gender programmes that give them priority, having to choose between those programme and health programmes that are life-saving. It is an awful, awful choice.”