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Australian Government criticised for ‘clumsy’ attack on Chinese aid to Pacific

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Australian Federal Labor has accused the government of “clumsiness” in managing their relations with China after International Development Minister Concetta Fierravanti-Wells attacked the nation’s aid to Pacific nations.

Federal Labor, who recently criticised the government’s approach to the foreign influence debate, said the language was “clumsy”.

“Simply lashing out at China every time the government is in trouble is a good way to deal with a relationship that is of very great economic importance to Australia,” Foreign Affairs Spokeswoman Penny Wong told the ABC.

Penny Wong pointed out the coalition government had slashed the Australian aid budget by more than $11 billion since 2013.

“Pacific island neighbours have felt the impact of these cuts,” she said.

“Let’s remember that China has played an increasing role in the Pacific as the Coalition under Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull have increasingly abandoned the region, relentlessly hacking at our aid funding and seeing an $11 billion dollar cut to the development budget since they won government,” she said.

The bulk of Australia’s aid is spent in the Pacific, and Lowy Institute Pacific Islands program director Jonathan Pryke said the region had been insulated from wider cuts to development assistance.

“Aid to the Pacific Island region has remained quite steady for the last few years and it has avoided the cuts to the broader aid program that we’ve seen in this Coalition government,” he told the ABC.

“I’ll give them credit for protecting our interest in our near region, but it’s not just about money it’s about attention.”

Successive Labor and Liberal government have made cuts to the aid program.