Many Australians were left gobsmacked yesterday when Foreign Minister Julie Bishop responded to a tweet by pop singer Rihanna calling on the Australian Government to pledge $200 million to the Julia Gillard led Global Partnership for Education (GPE) by issuing a media release hours later stating that Australia was pledging $90 million to the partnership. It was officially denied that the press release had anything to do with Rihanna’s tweet.
The GPE has the noble goal of improving educational outcomes for children particularly girls in poor countries. However an internal review of the GPE in 2015 found there was no solid evidence of an improvement in educational outcomes and that the organization required “practical and theoretical issues to be resolved” with some donor countries threatening to withdraw funding unless outcomes could be improved.
Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard has been chair of GPE board for the past four years. Donations to the GPE for the next three years totaled a record $US2.3bn, much of it from governments’ foreign aid budget. Despite the large figure it is below the $US3.1 billion donation target they set for themselves and after Gillard has been jetsetting the world shilling for donations. Bishop’s $90 million pledge was below the $140 million pledge she gave in 2014. Gillard herself has reportedly struck up a personal friendship with Rihanna.
Oxfam International was one of the organisations to complain about donation figures being below the exceedingly high expectation with their education policy adviser Kira Boe telling the Australian “The lack of full support from the international community means children in poor countries still face an uphill climb to get the education they need”.
Australia’s foreign aid budget of $3.9 billion for the 2017-18 financial year has been strongly criticised by both fiscal conservatives and Australia first campaigners as in a time we are over $500 billion in debt our spending should be prioritised on Australians. Julie Bishop has proven herself to be as bad as Kevin Rudd when it comes to opening up the Australian taxpayers’ wallet while overseas. In September 2017 she pledged $30 million in foreign aid to developing nations including Yemen, South Sudan, and Somalia.
Australian Government’s spending more on foreign aid gets it plaudits from the international community however more never seems to be enough. The United Nations wants all developed nations to spend 0.7% of their national income (GDP) on foreign aid. Labor’s foreign affairs spokesperson Penny Wong has indicated they are broadly supportive of such a target. Regardless of each party’s approach it would appear our large foreign aid budget is here to stay.