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Australia's foreign aid budget called into question when farmers face drought

By Alexandra Beech, Friday August 10, 2018 - 10:36 EST
ABC licensed image
Australian farmers hit by drought are struggling to find or buy feed to keep their stock alive. - ABC licensed

Social media has been flooded with memes and posts calling for the Federal Government to cut foreign aid spending and use that money to help struggling farmers instead. But is that really a good idea?

, the Government is worried misinformation and "fake news" about the aid budget is spreading online.

But it's not just keyboard warriors who are angry.

Brian Egan runs Aussie Helpers, a charity set up to help farmers doing it tough. He said he couldn't understand why so much money was sent to farmers overseas.

"We get asked about it every day of the week," Mr Egan said.

"Why aren't they being helped?

"And why should people, for example in Indonesia, be getting help with farming when our own farmers are struggling just to survive?"

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has urged people to approach what they read on social media with caution.

"We need to look at the facts," Mr Littleproud said.

"I'm as patriotic as the next Australian, but we need to look at the reality of what drives agriculture in this country. And what drives agriculture is trade."

He said simplistic messages often failed to take into account the benefits that foreign aid brought to farmers in Australia.

"We put $300 million into foreign aid in Indonesia, but the reality is we're making $3 billion worth of trade in agricultural products to Indonesia," Mr Littleproud said.

"We do not want to cut our nose off to spite our face. We need to be calm and decisive about this … the reality is, this is keeping farmers alive."

Foreign aid made up 0.8 per cent of the total federal budget.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, who visited Samoa this week, defended the amount of money Australia put towards helping its neighbours.

"All developed countries provide foreign aid as part of efforts to foster international peace, security, and to develop the economies of some of the poorest nations on earth," Ms Bishop said.

"We help strengthen security in the region, aiming to ensure Australia is not affected by instability, conflict or terrorism.

"We help strengthen the health systems of nations in the region, so they are better able to respond to pandemics and other diseases before they reach Australia."

Ms Bishop said it wasn't a matter of having to choose between money for aid or money for farmers.

"The foreign aid budget does not divert any funds from the social services and welfare budget," Ms Bishop said.

Labor is announcing plans to boost Centrelink services for drought-affected farmers today and Labor's human services spokeswoman, Linda Burney, has also urged people to be responsible with what they share online.

"It's such a powerful form of communication," Ms Burney said.

"There's no doubt there's a crisis out there, in New South Wales and Queensland in particular, in relation to farmers. But we should not be setting up one group of people against another."

The argument to redirect foreign aid funding to farmers has also found a voice in Parliament, with One Nation leader Pauline Hanson calling for a change in priorities.

And Mr Egan said he wasn't convinced by the arguments in favour of foreign aid.

"Honestly I don't think anyone cares anymore," he said. "Why aren't we helping our people at home? Surely they must come first.

"We have a huge agricultural sector and they're just letting it be smashed."


© ABC 2018

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