Government's $650m foreign aid cuts slammed

The federal government will slash Australia's contribution to global initiatives to tackle climate change, health and sanitation crises in developing countries as part of its $650 million cuts to foreign aid.

The cuts, announced on Saturday, will strip almost $250 million in funding from the Asia-Pacific region and south Asia, despite Foreign Minister Julie Bishop's assurances that Australia will renew its foreign aid focus on the region.

Plan International said the timing of the cuts was almost as damaging as the cuts themselves, given the 2013-14 financial year is already more than 10 months underway.

"This is a mid-stream cut," Plan International chief executive Ian Wishart said.

"We are deep into the financial year and now some of these cuts will need to be yanked out of important programs that are already underway.”

The government will cut $61 million comes from the Pacific region, with only Nauru – which now hosts 942 asylum seekers on behalf of Australia – spared cuts.

Australia will also cut $116 million in planned expenditure from East Asia, including $59 million from Indonesia, $71 million from South and West Asia, including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, $113 million from Africa and the Middle East and $5.3 million from Latin America and the Caribbean.

Australia spent $3747 million in international aid in 2012-13, and Labor had budgeted for this to increase to $4223.5 million this financial year.

But 10 months into the financial year, the government released its revised 2013-14 foreign aid spending on Saturday, showing it will spend $3598 million this financial year. This is $625.5 million less than Labor's predicted spending and $149 million less than last year's spending.

With cuts to its department spending and other measures tied to foreign aid, the cuts to planned spending rise to $650.1 million.

Oxfam chief executive Helen Szoke said her organisation would now be forced to consider which critical work it could no longer do.

"Just as Foreign Affairs staff had to do yesterday, we will now go to some of those people we have been supporting and tell them that we can no longer support them, which will be acutely disheartening for them," Dr Szoke said.

Ms Bishop said Labor's foreign aid spending was "neither targeted nor sustainable".

"With a $47 billion budget deficit this year and gross government debt projected to rise to $667 billion, we must ensure Australia's aid program has a funding base that is responsible and affordable."

Australia will cut $75.4 million from humanitarian, emergency and refugees programs, including $8.5 million from the International Committee of the Red Cross, $4 million from planned donations to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and $1 million from the United Nations Peacekeeping Fund.

It will also cut $23.9 million from UN, Commonwealth and other international organisations, including $6 million from the United Nations Development Programme, $4.2 million from UNICEF, and $3.4 million from the World Health Organisation.

Two days before the September election, the Coalition announced it would no longer commit to a timeline for Australia to contribute 0.5 per cent of its gross national income to overseas aid, which was part of Australia's commitment to the Millennium Development Goals.

Ms Bishop said on Saturday the government would now tie foreign aid increases to the CPI.

Senator Penny Wong dubbed the cuts "heartless".

"Australia is a generous country and we can afford to lend a helping hand to those who need it most."

The story Government's $650m foreign aid cuts slammed first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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