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Australia Called to ‘Lift its Game’ on Foreign Aid

29 March 2018 at 8:51 am
Luke Michael
A major peer review of Australia’s aid program has warned that successive cuts to the nation’s aid budget is impairing the effectiveness of its humanitarian efforts, leading to calls for the federal government to “lift its game”.

Luke Michael | 29 March 2018 at 8:51 am


Australia Called to ‘Lift its Game’ on Foreign Aid
29 March 2018 at 8:51 am

A major peer review of Australia’s aid program has warned that successive cuts to the nation’s aid budget is impairing the effectiveness of its humanitarian efforts, leading to calls for the federal government to “lift its game”.

The Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (DAC) released a report on Australia’s aid performance on Monday.

It commended Australia for its active global engagement on development and focus on fragile small island states and disaster risk reduction, but noted that successive cuts to the nation’s aid budget since 2013 were impairing its efforts.

DAC chair Charlotte Petri Gornitzka, said Australia urgently needed to restore its official development assistance (ODA), which projections indicated could drop to an all-time low of 0.22 per cent of gross national income (GNI) in 2017/18.

“Australia uses its voice on the global stage to advocate for responses to challenges faced by small island developing states, in particular to build resilience and mitigate disaster risk,” Petri Gornitzka said.

“At the same time the decline in aid flows, despite steady economic growth, has affected the scope of development and humanitarian programs, and we encourage Australia to find a way to reverse this trend.”

Australia provided US$3.28 billion (A$4.28 billion) in net ODA in 2016 (0.27 per cent of GNI), down more than 5 per cent from US$3.49 billion (A$4.55 billion), or 0.29 per cent of GNI, in 2015.

The OECD has a target for donors to provide 0.7 per cent of GNI as ODA, with the average ratio of ODA to GNI for DAC donors reaching 0.32 per cent in 2016.

The report said this reduction in ODA was due to Australia slashing its aid budget in recent years.

“Having moved away from a commitment to reach 0.5 per cent by 2015, Australia has consistently cut ODA since 2013 despite experiencing continued economic growth over this period,” the report said.

“Since 2013, in cumulative terms, the Australian aid budget has been cut by over 30 per cent. Overall budget cuts have affected the scope of both the development and humanitarian [programs].

“Furthermore, Australian budget projections suggest that the ratio of ODA to gross national income will continue to decline, reaching a historic low of 0.22 per cent in 2017/18.”

Responding to the report, Australian Council for International Development CEO Marc Purcell, said that the nation’s international partners were calling on Australia to lift its game and reinvest in its aid programs.

“This review shows that Australia wants the benefits of being part of the club but isn’t willing to chip-in when the clubhouse roof starts leaking. On contributing our fair share of aid, our partners and allies are telling us that we have failed to live up to the commitments we have made on the international stage,” Purcell said.

“As overall government spending has grown by 10 per cent since 2013, Australia’s official aid budget has been cut by 30 per cent. This fails to do justice to who we are as a compassionate nation and what we have to offer the world.

“We have no aid volume trajectory and desperately need a vision and articulation of how our aid program is going to match up with the new foreign policy white paper. The aid cuts were short-sighted and unwarranted when they were made, but having now laid out the white paper’s strategy, they are totally counterproductive for Australia.”

The report recommended that Australia re-introduce an ambitious target for increasing ODA against GNI, and set out a path to meet the target.

“Increasing ODA would enhance Australia’s international profile and reputation, as would addressing issues of policy coherence across government in line with the SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals],” the report said.

“For example, the Australian government considers that it has met its domestic policy commitment to stem the illegal flow of migrants into Australia through the creation of ‘regional processing centres’, yet this has drawn criticism for the suffering caused.

“Australia can also maximise its development footprint by addressing issues related to the environment at home and continued improvement in oversight of Australian business activity overseas.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has recently worked to demonstrate more clearly the alignment between Australia’s aid program and the SDGs.

A DFAT spokesperson told Pro Bono News that the department welcomed the review.

“We are pleased Australia has been recognised as having a strong voice on the global stage, advocating actively and consistently for the interests of small island developing states and the Pacific region, and on issues such as disaster risk reduction and gender equality,” the spokesperson said.

“The report highlights our robust performance framework and the strength of our focus on trade, with aid for trade and efforts to reduce trade barriers creating mutually beneficial outcomes across our region.

“DFAT will consider carefully all of the review’s recommendations in the context of ongoing efforts to strengthen the aid program. Our response to the review will be measured by the DAC in a mid-term review which is due around 2020.”  

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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