For the past two elections, I’ve cast my vote based on a single question, which party promises to give the most money in foreign aid? I grant that this is a fairly narrow and simplistic lens through which to judge a political party. I also should declare my bias that as a humanitarian worker there is some self-interest here. On the other hand, though, the more a government is prepared to act in a spirit of responsibility and generosity towards the world’s most needy, the more it is likely to behave in the same way towards the most vulnerable within New Zealand. As such, I reckon my question is hardly a bad barometer of a political party’s worth.
This election, I’m yet to decide whether I’ll be a single-issue voter again, but foreign aid policy will certain feature in my thinking. And since I’ve researched the party’s policies, I thought I might as well share them with Daily Blog readers.
So, let’s start with the Nats. As far as I’m aware, National have not announced any change to current policy, so it’s their track record that counts here, and it does not make pretty reading. In 2013, New Zealand’s foreign aid expenditure (technically known as Official Development Assistance, ODA) hit a record high in dollar terms of $563m. This may sound impressive, but in percentage of Gross National Income (GNI) terms, it was a mere 0.26% and a lowly 16th on the OECD foreign aid league table. The government’s indicative budget for 2014 is even lower, less than $500m mark and likely to dip below a quarter of a percent of GNI. Rating: pathetic!
Before National-haters get too gleeful about this, though, I need to make it clear that National has more or less continued with the status quo it inherited from nine years of a Labour-led Government. In fact, the record low aid budget of 0.23% of GNI (in 2004) came under a Prime Minister who is now head of the United Nations Development Programme. An irony I do not particularly enjoy.
But has Labour had a change of heart since the lows reached under Helen Clark? Has such a committed and experienced humanitarian as David Shearer had any positive influence? Indeed, well done David. Labour wants to increase New Zealand’s foreign aid allocation… “as fiscal conditions permit”. What does that mean? Well, looking at Labour’s fiscal plan, it would seem that fiscal conditions show no sign of “permitting” any time before 2021. In other words, Labour’s foreign aid policy is just as bad as National’s except that they feel a little more sheepish about it. Rating: very disappointing!
In desperation for some better news, I checked out the Green Party’s policy; the party who won my vote in both 2008 and 2011. And better news can indeed be found here because the Greens plan to raise New Zealand’s ODA to 0.7% of GNI or roughly $1.5 billion in 2013 terms. This is frankly the minimum that New Zealanders should be expecting their government to contribute given we are talking about a mere 70c out of every dollar this country generates and that this the target that all rich countries have signed up to. Nevertheless, this would represent a huge increase, big enough to positively change the lives of hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people. However, there is considerable disappointment in the details because the Greens stated policy on this issue is significantly out of step with their recently published fiscal costings, which make no mention of an increase in foreign aid. True, these costings do not cover every budget item, but the sort of increase required to reach the 0.7% target would definitely have a fiscal impact worthy of highlighting. So, instead of bright news, it seems that whilst the Greens have good intentions on this issue, they are not committed enough to it to want to foot the bill. Rating: must try harder!
Concrete commitment comes from United Future, though, which not only promises to raise foreign aid to the 0.7% mark by 2020, but to increase it to 0.5% (i.e. double it) immediately. Now, to be honest, I was surprised that Peter Dunne actually continues with the pretence that United Future is still a party and not merely a lone MP in support of National, but there it is, a United Future website, which contains a 2014 election manifesto, in which can be found the only unequivocal claim to support an increase in New Zealand’s foreign aid. But, whilst it’s encouraging to see this in writing, it should also be noted that Dunne’s policy on this issue has not changed since 2008, indicating that Peter Dunne is hardly willing to burn whatever Cabinet influence he has on this issue. This makes United Future’s policy manifesto, lovely though it is, little more than an indulgent piece of fiction from New Zealand’s biggest political nerd. Rating: Excellent work, but who cares?
What about the other parties then? Well, apart from Act which promises to halve ODA (rating: unpublishable), not a single other party (and I’ve surveyed NZ First, Mana-Internet, Maori Party and the Conservatives) has a policy on ODA or makes anything more than the vaguest of mentions of the subject. Rating: failed to show up!
I find this incredibly sad. In 2014, humanitarian crises are dominating our headlines and the number of global refugees has topped 50 million (see my post of 24 June) and yet aid funding is of such little interest to New Zealanders that the two major parties can get away with maintaining what is a fundamentally selfish status quo and most of the minor parties don’t even consider the issue worthy of mention.
My comparison between the different parties favours the Green Party for the third election in a row. But, even for the Greens, this issue seems far too low on the priority list to be taken seriously. Sadly, the selfishness of the Key Government seems – on this issue at least – to have spread itself right across the political spectrum.