By ROD McGUIRK
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) â¿¿ Australia will slow a projected increase in foreign aid spending as a cost-cutting measure in the new annual budget plan to be revealed Tuesday.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr said Monday that Australia's long-standing pledge to increase its foreign aid spending to 0.5 percent of gross national income by 2015-16 would be postponed by two years.
The pledge already was delayed for the current fiscal year that ends June 30.
Carr said Australia's foreign aid budget would increase by around 500 million Australian dollars ($499 million) to AU$5.7 billion in the next fiscal year â¿¿ a 9.6 percent increase on the current year. That would lift the aid budget to 0.37 percent of gross national income.
He said the 24 wealthy nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which includes Australia, had reduced foreign aid spending by an average of 4 percent last year.
"We are going to be increasing our aid, but not at the rate we had hoped in economically more buoyant times," Carr told reporters.
"The alternative would be to borrow money to spend on overseas development assistance and that's simply not sustainable," he added.
Overseas aid groups were critical of the decision to earmark AU$375 million of the foreign aid budget in the next fiscal year to accommodate asylum seekers in the Australian mainland or on island detention camps.
The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), the peak body for Australia's overseas aid and humanitarian charities, said AU$375 million had already been taken from the foreign aid budget since December last year when the government decided to pay asylum seeker costs from aid coffers.
The council's executive director Marc Purcell said Australia had become one of the biggest recipients of its own aid, rivaling Indonesia, which receives around AU$500 million a year, and Papua New Guinea, which receives more than AU$490 million.