Hardship Is Not A Competition: Supporting Our Farmers Doesn’t Mean We Can’t Support Our Neighbours


With all of NSW now drought declared, and other states fast heading in the same direction, calls for more support for farmers is welcome. But slashing spending to help neighbours we’ve abused for decades is not the way to get there, writes Hayley McQuire.

I support Australian Farmers. What I don’t agree with is the constant argument about “Why are we giving so much in foreign aid yet not supporting our farmers?”

This is a common theme that arises whenever there are a group of Australians in crisis.

“Why are we giving so much in foreign aid while there are so many homeless? Why are we giving so much in foreign aid while our old people are on a horrible pension? Why are we giving so much in foreign aid when Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People…..”

Okay, admittedly, it doesn’t seem to appear when First Peoples are in crisis. But for the record, the majority of our Foreign Aid budget is spent with our neighbours in the Asia Pacific.

Let’s keep in mind our history with countries in this region.

A large amount of our aid goes to our closest neighbour Papua New Guinea, with $546.3m allocated in the 2017-2018 budget.

The Kokoda Trail in Papua New Guinea. (IMAGE: Drew Douglas, Flickr)

Every ANZAC Day we celebrate our partnership with Papua New Guinea and how they saved our arse on the Kokoda Track. However, we conveniently forget the fact that PNG was under Australia’s colonial rule as one of our territory’s up until 1972. We conveniently forget how Australia has exploited PNG for their natural resources (here’s looking at you Rio Tinto Bougainville Copper Mine).

Australia also gives aid to other Pacific countries like Vanuatu ($69.8m in 2017-2018) and Solomon Islands ($146m in 2017-2018).

So, I guess some are forgetting the time Australia STOLE people from their homes and forced them into indentured labour and built an entire sugar industry off the back of black bodies.

I should know, my great great grandfather was stolen from Tanna Island, Vanuatu and brought to Australia as a young boy. He never saw his family again.

You know what, our farmers deserve our support. Just like our homeless, just like our Old People. But it does not need to come at the expense of our partners in the Asia Pacific.

Instead of attacking our foreign aid budget, which was already cut by $141 million in the 2018-2019 Budget, how about facing Australia’s real contribution to the impacts of climate change, which is disproportionately impacting island nations, as well as our farmers.

How about calling on the Government to put money into renewable energy and sustainable agriculture. How about we become leaders in revolutionising our food production system so that we protect our land and waterways.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. (IMAGE: NATO, Flickr)

How about we call out the Turnbull Government for the $444 million donation he made to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation – a small, private organisation with strong ties to resource companies – that was rushed through without due process. This is almost 80% of the total ODA allocation to PNG. 

How about we call out the Government for spending $50 million on a Botany Bay Memorial for Captain Cook?

How about we call on the Government to stop incarcerating our kids and invest in diversionary programs – I’m sure that will save some money.

There are so many other ways we could be calling on the Government to support farmers. There are ways that we create a fairer and more equitable society.

We can achieve this, and, we can do it without taking from those in need of our support, especially our neighbours in the Asia Pacific.

Hayley McQuire is a Darumbal South Sea Islander woman from Rockhampton, Central Queensland. Hayley was the Australian Representative on the UN Secretary General’s Global Education First Imitative Youth Advocacy Group.