A coalition of prominent Christian leaders have written to treasurer Scott Morrison urging him not to go ahead with scheduled cuts to Australian aid in next month’s federal budget.
The government is expected to cut foreign aid by $224 million, leaving around $3.8 billion for the 2016-17 aid budget.
The cut may make Australia’s aid contribution the least generous it has ever been as a proportion of national income.
In a Senate Estimates hearing in June last year, DFAT officials said spending on overseas direct aid in 2016-17 would only make up 0.22 per cent of Australia’s gross national income – the lowest percentage on record since 1984, and possibly earlier.
The letter, which SBS understands was sent to the treasurer’s Canberra office earlier this week, was signed by various regional and national leaders in the Uniting, Anglican, Catholic and Lutheran churches.
“As leaders within Australia’s Christian denominations, we write to call on you not to proceed with planned cuts to Australia’s aid budget,” the letter said.
“Coming on top of more than $11 billion in cuts to aid since coming to office, this will be the fourth time the Government has targeted Australian aid for cuts.
“Australia’s support for aid and the flourishing of our neighbours is fundamentally a moral question and it rises above partisan politics.”
Mr Morrison’s office declined to comment on the letter.
“The Government doesn’t speculate on the Budget,” a spokesperson told SBS. “The Budget will be handed down on May 3.”
The national coordinator of Micah Australia, which organised the letter, said he was optimistic the budget could be changed at the last minute.
“There are genuinely budget difficulties,” Ben Thurley said.
“But, despite us being wealthier than we’ve ever been, we’ve chosen to turn our backs on international engagement. We’ve chosen to withdraw from a strong commitment to the global fight against poverty, and instead we’ve become more self protective and less generous.”
Mr Thurley said the signatory churches saw the budget as a “moral document”, not just a financial one.
Charity group Save the Children has estimated $224 million is enough to vaccinate 92,000 children against diseases like polio and measles, enrol 54,000 children in school and provide a safe birth for 34,000 babies and mothers.
Among the letter’s signatories is Australian Christian Churches president Pastor Wayne Alcorn, who leads the denomination of the church Mr Morrison attends in Sydney.
Mr Thurley said the treasurer’s past actions, including his maiden speech to parliament, suggested a “genuine commitment” to helping people in poverty.
“I would hope that in inviting him to live up to his best sentiments and his faith, our faith… he would be open to reversing a decision that actually wasn’t his in the first place.”
The Coalition government has cut $11 billion from the aid budget since it was elected. The $224 million cut was scheduled in the late-2014 Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook, before Mr Morrison was treasurer.
The 2016 budget will be released on May 3.