The Guardian • Issue #2041


Aid for people, not profit

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2041

Like a horrendous auction, the death toll from the massive earthquake in Türkiye (Turkey) and Syria continues to rise, every time we check the news feed. At time of writing, we know that 37,000 people have died. Estimates of how much the damage will cost Türkiye alone range to up to AU$72 billion. These figures are elastic, and it’s hard to find any figures for Syria, from where the news is mainly about sanctions, but they give an idea of the level of need. There could be more than a million homeless people in Syria.

Australia committed “an initial” $10 million in aid to Turkiye, with an additional $3 million to Syria via UNICEF. This has since been increased by $8 million.

That’s a drop in the ocean compared to the level of need and human misery involved. Of course, nobody is expecting Australia to do all the relief work – it is only one country among many. However, some comparisons are in order.

As part of its ceaseless drive to not be wedged by the Coalition, the Australian Labor Party has committed to giving $17.7 billion back to high income earners in legislated tax cuts next year.

That’s a lot more than $10 million and it’s about four times as much as the government spends on all its foreign aid. Also hefty is the cost of the nuclear-powered submarines the government has signed up to receive at some point in the future; $171 billion has been credibly cited.

The World Health Organisation has called for more aid for Syria, pointing out that years of sanctions have left the country in a weakened state when it comes to humanitarian disasters like this. The US has announced a temporary lifting of its unilateral sanctions after China urged Washington to put aside its “geopolitical obsession” and do so.

Naturally Australia didn’t do any similar urging, despite the supposedly robust relationship with the United States. Bourgeois governments from both sides of politics know not to question the actions of Australia’s big friend. Sanctions, which have visited hardship on the lives of ordinary people from Cuba to Iraq, will be generously lifted, then applied again when the US decides that it’s expedient.

Okay, so the Albanese government is subservient to the United States, but at least it’s being generous with aid, right? Wrong. Under the previous Coalition government Australian foreign aid fell to its lowest in 39 years. Under the Labor government increases have been (a) nowhere near as generous as we are to potential submarine suppliers and people on more than $200,000 per year, and (b) firmly focused on what the ALP says is the national interest – all of which mirrors the Coalition’s position. Australia increased aid to Pacific countries by $900 million to make Australia “more influential in the world,” according to Foreign Minister Penny Wong.

What’s more, Australian aid, like Western aid in general, tends to boomerang back to the country giving the aid, in the form of large amounts of aid going to contractors, and to companies based in the US and Australia: Reconstruction, whether after a natural disaster or war, is a profit bonanza. In an example of revolving-door government, former foreign affairs minister Julie Bishop, is on the board of Palladium – one of the companies that formed Palladium is GRM, the third largest private sector partner for AusAID, which administers Australia’s foreign aid.

The Communist Party of Australia calls for increased aid to the earthquake victims, aid which has as its focus support on the ground for the victims, and not as an opportunistic means to further enrich the private sector, hand-in glove with imperialism’s destructive agenda.

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