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Fury over foreign aid spending rises as farmers struggle with drought

The government has had to defend the foreign aid budget as social media is flooded with criticisms

As the drought affects large parts of the country, the government has had to respond to mounting criticisms over its distribution of funds – namely, the foreign aid budget.

Social media has come alive with keyboard warriors calling for the government to disband the current foreign aid budget and to direct all funds for farmers. Although some senators, like Pauline Hanson, agree, others have come out in defence of it.

Agriculture Minister, David Littleproud, said social media users should rethink what it is they are asking before they read or post something on the platforms.

“We need to look at the facts,” Littleproud insisted to the ABC. “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 added that users failed to take into account the benefits of the foreign aid budget for farmers: “We put $300 million into foreign aid in Indonesia, but the reality is we’re making $3 billion worth of trade in agriculture products to Indonesia.

“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.”

This comes as a parliamentary inquiry sits to analyse the effectiveness and outcomes of Indo-Pacific aid. Charity groups, such as Save the Children and Oxfam, will tell the committee that the aid budget should be boosted.

Research has shown that Australia is the biggest donor to developing Pacific nations. The Lowly Institute’s Pacific aid map shows that Australia is leading with more than $6.5 billion spent. China has just overtaken New Zealand to sit second.

One Nation Senator, Pauline Hanson, said in a tweet: “How can we justify shamefully wasting billions on overseas handouts to corrupt governments and accountable NGOs while our own farmers struggle with extreme droughts and suicide!”

Barnaby Joyce has also defended the aid budget. He has called for more water infrastructure but said the government had to sign the chequebook for both farmers and foreign aid.

“We need to have support of island nations around us otherwise the Chinese government will just move in there and support them, and then you’ll have another type of problem,” Joyce said.

In a recent statement, Littleproud announced that thousands of farming families will be given more reprieve will immediate, additional funding. The now extended Farm Household Allowance scheme will provide up to $12,000 for eligible households.

“We can’t make it rain. But we can ensure that farming families and their communities get all the support they need to get through the drought,” Littleproud said.

Malcolm Turnbull has defended the government’s drought relief package after critics said this fund was “too little, too late” and admitted it would barely pay for a load of hay, adding: “[The package is] not designed to pay for fodder.”

Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, defended the amount for foreign aid to the ABC. “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.”

Bishop added that it would not divert from money given to farmers: “The foreign aid budget does not divert any funds from the social services and welfare budget.”

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