By Georgina Moore,
5 August, 2013
The Speaker of the House of Representatives, Anna Burke, has wondered aloud whether she still belongs in the ALP after recent cuts to foreign aid and the party’s new hardline policy on asylum seekers.
Speaking at a candidates forum in Melbourne on Sunday night, the member for Chisholm said the government needed to reach the nation’s goal of increasing foreign aid to 0.7 per cent of the gross national income faster.
“I think we should be getting to the 0.7 [per cent] quicker, but I’m not the one sitting in finance and budget so I can make those comments,” Ms Burke said. In 2010, Labor pledged to increase foreign aid to 0.5 percent of gross national income by 2015, but last Friday the government announced $879 million worth of cuts to Australia’s foreign aid budget.
“Sometimes I even wonder why I run for the Labor Party.”
Ms Burke said progress with agreements such as the United Nations Millennium Development Goals aimed at halving extreme poverty, halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education by 2015 were linked to reducing numbers of boat arrivals. “We’ve been talking a lot about asylum seekers (and) a lot of that goes back to poverty. The original view of the Millennium Development Goals was to eradicate poverty, which can eradicate a whole range of issues.”
She also called on the government to increase its yearly humanitarian intake to 30,000—a third above the Houston Report’s now implemented recommendation of 20,000.
“You’ve got to remember that we take about 200,000 people a year on all other visas; it’s a very small grouping that we take on this humanitarian one,” she said.
Ms Burke said the UN Refugee Convention should be expanded to cover crises such as starvation. “It doesn’t look at people who are in starvation. It doesn’t actually talk about some of the more modern-day crises, so we need to actually expand it, because some of it had been very much around political persecution … There are now a lot of refugees who aren’t being persecuted but still have to flee some devastation in their own land.”
The UN Refugee Convention defines a refugee as “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion”.