Thursday, August 19, 2010

More and better aid demanded from Australia

With elections coming up in Australia, a coalition of non-profit aid groups are calling for more and better aid from the government. Australia's aid budget is going to double by 2015 but it will still be at only half of what NGOs would like to see.

From the Inter Press Service, writer Neena Bhandari gives us this story on Australian development issues.

The 72-member Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), an independent association of Australian non-profit aid organisations, is spearheading calls for political parties to commit Australia to playing its full part in helping poorer countries achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a set of development targets from maternal mortality to education that the world’s governments pledged to meet by 2015.

Given present trends, Australia’s aid budget is expected to double from the current 4.35 billion Australian dollars (3.9 billion U.S. dollars) to between eight to nine billion Australian dollars (7.2 to 8 billion U.S. dollars) in the next five years.

Foreign aid from Australia, which belongs to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) or group of donor countries, is projected to be at 0.35 percent of GNI, the U.N.-agreed measure of rich nations’ foreign aid funds, in 2010, according to OECD figures. That is half of the 0.7 percent of GNI measure.

"Australia has the lowest public debt among OECD countries, as well as low unemployment and strong growth, and yet we are still not giving our fair share of the funding needed to meet the critically important MDGs," said Tom O'Connor, chief executive officer of the non-government group The Oaktree Foundation.

"Neither is the quality of our overseas aid assistance up to scratch. For example, we only give about one-third of our fair share to the Global Fund to Fight HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria," O’Connor added in an interview.

In the run-up to the polls, the ruling Labor Party and the Liberal-National Party Coalition have proposed that Australia increase its aid commitments to 0.5 percent of GNI by 2015. The Greens Party, which has seen a record surge in support from voters switching away from the two main parties, supports increasing Canberra’s commitment to 0.7 percent of GNI.

Australia was ranked the 13th aid donor as a percentage of national income in 2009. In its current budget, most of its aid (411 million U.S. dollars) goes to Indonesia, followed by Papua New Guinea (409 million U.S. dollars), Solomon Islands (202 million U.S. dollars) and Afghanistan (110 million U.S. dollars).

But activists say it is not just the amount of aid funds that the Australian government needs to work on, but the quality and focus of its aid programme.

A lot of Australian aid funds consist of tied aid, raising the question of whom they actually benefit, they add.

"Much of Australia’s donor contribution was described as ‘boomerang aid’ as one-third of the donated dollars never left the country, and up to 90 percent of overseas development contracts were won by Australian-based companies," said Joel Negin, a lecturer on international public health at the University of Sydney. "The language of aid has been shifting from recipient to partner government, from conditionality to mutual responsibility."

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