Australian budget likely to continue trend in aid spending
Australia's budget is likely to continue the recent trend of Australia's aid programme, according to an academic.
Australia's government is remaining tight-lipped about possible changes to aid spending in next week's budget, according to an academic who's written about changes to the aid programme for a new human rights report.
The deputy director of the Castan Institute for Human Rights Law at Melbourne's Monash University, Adam McBeth, says the aid programme is heading in directions completely unrelated to poverty alleviation, and that's unlikely to change in this year's budget.
He told Jamie Tahana that people tend to think that every dollar spent on aid goes to medicines, schools or housing, and that needs to change.
ADAM MCBETH: You can't just assume that every dollar rates been amount to those outcomes, so I think the lesson here is that it's important to check, it's important to see what are governments spending 8 dollars on. Are they spending it on promoting the trade or the consultancy of their own nationals abroad ? Is it about just getting export contracts or is it actually about doing good on the ground. And there is also the tendency to hide all sorts of other things as aid as well. In the case of Australia recently, they are now counting detention of refugees on Nauru and Manus island in Papua New Guinea as part of Australia's aid budget which is almost 180 degrees reverse to what people would assume aid spending would be used for.
JAMIE TAHANA: Aid spending, really, there's not set definition for it here?
AM: There are definitions that apply and the OECD set some guidelines on this, so when a government reports on how much it's spending each year on aid, there's certain things you are allowed to count and certain things you are not. But there's become more of a trend in recent years to sort of stretch those definitions as much as you can. So for example, it is acceptable under the OECD aid guidelines to count spending which is about providing services to refugees and integrating them into your country that's assuming that they are doing it onshore because that's about I guess development integration of people in dire need.
But what the Australian government has done has set up highly punitive centres in other countries and they are saying this is development work we doing in other countries, we are counting it. It is totally contrary to the spirit of the rules but they have stretched the definition in order to set it within the rules. So that's one example, another example is common not only to Australia but lots of countries, is for the real objective to be about commerce, it's about setting up contracts for logistics companies or for the people who are going to build the bridges or the dams or whatever the case might be in the recipient country. So most of the money doesn't actually get to the people in need, it's just a matter of contract with local companies and facilitating their own commercial interests and they can count that as aid as well.
JT: What are you expecting to see in regards to foreign aid from Canberra in next weeks budget?
AM: Interestingly they haven't said much, usually the practice is usually to sort of leak out the bad news a few weeks in advance. The aid budget's suffered cuts in the last two years already, Australia has never come close to meeting the international target of 0-point-7 personal income for its aid budget. The new government when they came in said what we are going to do is just flat line. So we are going to say from now on we are going to increase the aid budget each year in accordance with inflation, we are not going to gradually set up towards our internationally agreed target. So in other words, we are currently about half the target and we are going to stay at half the target. They have also cut more than 100 million Australian dollars out of the budget already when they came to office. So one would hope that the nasty work in terms of the cutting of the aid budget has already been done and there's not much of cutting left to do.
The other thing to, is the point I was trying to make is that this report though is it's not only about the total dollar amount it's also about where is this going? If they taking exactly to the same aid budget that use to exist but applying it less towards humanitarian assistance and less towards development and human rights and more towards building commercial relationships then that's a net loss for human rights for the sorts of things the aid budget ought to be directed at.
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