AusAid reintegration a step back for alleviating poverty
AidWatch says AusAid's reintegration into DFAT will mean a focus on Australia's national interest rather than alleviating global poverty.
The aid monitoring group AidWatch says the Australian government's decision to reintegrate AusAid into the Department of Foreign Affairs is a step back for reducing poverty in the Pacific.
The newly-elected Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, who has planned a 4.5 billion Australian dollar cut to foreign aid, has said the decision will align the aid budget with the Government's diplomatic policies.
Mary Baines reports:
The chair of AidWatch's management committee, Matt Hilton, says the move shows alleviating poverty is not a priority for the new government.
MATT HILTON: This decision coming on what is essentially the first day of the government, and coming on the back of what was an announcement of around a $4.5 billion cut to the forward estimates of the aid programme, is just sending a signal to the aid sector, sending a signal to our aid partners, that aid isn't the priority of this government.
Mr Hilton says AusAID currently has a dual objective - to reduce poverty and promote national interest. But he says this decision will mean a major strategic realignment.
MATT HILTON: There will be more programmes that focus on Australia's national interest. That has always existed under AusAid but there has always been this tension between poverty reduction programmes and national interest programmes. I think the practical results of this decision means that those poverty alleviation programmes will be less important and what will be more important is facilitating Australian business and facilitating other Australian interests in the Pacific and in Asia.
Mr Hilton says this trend is a move back to when the coalition government was last in power, and had little concern about actual poverty alleviation outcomes. An organiser for New Zealand's Aid and Development Dialogues, Terence Wood, says when the purpose of aid becomes to benefit your own country, it will become less effective in helping people in poorer countries. He says as was the case in New Zealand, there is no plausible justification for reintegration.
TERENCE WOOD: As in the Australian case, in New Zealand there was no real strong justification for reintegrating the New Zealand aid programme back into MFAT. So the fact that that the Australian government is doing something similar would seem concerning. Certainly in New Zealand, the reintegration has come coupled with diversion of our aid to serving New Zealand's interest. That's one of the reasons I'd be worried that that's going to happen in Australia, too.
Mr Wood says AusAID is a well-regarded and well-functioning aid agency, and there is nothing to suggest aid will be better delivered from inside DFAT.
TERENCE WOOD: Most assessments of AusAid such as OECD peer reviews of it and its informal assessments amongst other donors would have it considered as a relatively good aid donor. So while there has been criticism of the way Australia has engaged with the Pacific it would certainly be mistaken to think that changes to AusAid now could in anyway be justified by poor performance on AusAid's behalf.
Mr Wood says a decision to cut aid funding mid-financial year is reckless, and shows little regard for the careful planning needed to deliver aid successfully. Oxfam Australia's acting director of public engagement, Jo Pride, says the government's approach to aid is concerning. Ms Pride says a government task force has been set up, but the details of the integration are not yet known.
JO PRIDE: In terms of how it would affect us, we are yet to see the details yet, but we are talking about is a smaller aid programme and I think a concern that the lines between a clear focus on reducing poverty and Australia's broader foreign policy may become increasingly blurred.
Ms Pride says Oxfam's primary concern is to ensure the main purpose of Australia's aid continues to be alleviating poverty, which they will raise with the government. A spokesperson for the new foreign minister, Julie Bishop, says no decision have been made on where the aid will be cut, while new prime minister, Tony Abbott, confirms that some staff at AusAID will lose their jobs.
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