23 Aug 2013

Foreign aid policy of two major Australian political parties compared

5:21 pm on 23 August 2013

The Australian National University's Development Policy Centre has compared the policies of Australia's two major political parties on aid and international development ahead of next month's election.

The author of the research, Robin Davies, spoke about some of the specific differences and how they relate to aid in the Pacific. Johnny Blades asked him where the two parties stand on the use of aid in climate change financing.

ROBIN DAVIES: The coalition, through Julie Bishop, the shadow foreign minister, said at one point that using aid for climate financing was not consistent with the Copenhagen Accord, which said that funding for action on climate change had to be new and additional, relative to aid budgets. So that might be the reason, or it might be that a lot of these programmes are really about preparing developing countries to participate in global carbon markets. And the coalition here is not in favour of emissions pricing. It prefers a direct action approach to reducing omissions. So it's not clear what the reason is, but at least the stated policy would be that the aid programme could not be used for climate financing, including for adaptation in the Pacific.

JOHNNY BLADES: What is the coalition doing, though, to gauge how its partners in the Pacific would like the aid programme to be directed?

ROBIN DAVIES: I can't be sure exactly how much dialogue there has been between coalition politicians and Pacific Island governments. But there is certainly a reasonably clear and consistent message from the coalition that they want to move beyond aid in their relationship with PNG and the Pacific Island countries, also Timor Leste. Aid, of course, will always be a significant part of the relationship, but the coalition has focused also on other policies, such as Australia's seasonal worker programme. The coalition has also focused on the Pacer PLUS negotiations and has flagged they might want to move to a more selective approach. So they're looking, I guess, at the broader suite of government policies and how those might promote development in the Pacific. I think that is a point of differentiation between the parties, at least a difference of emphasis.

JOHNNY BLADES: How would the two differ with the use of aid to meet the costs for processing asylum seekers trying to reach Australia?

ROBIN DAVIES: That's an area where there are both differences and similarities. On the one hand, the Labor government has allocated significant amounts of aid funding, controversially, to meet costs associated with asylum seekers living in Australia and waiting for their status to be determined. Labor has also more recently allocated funding as part of the so-called 'PNG solution' from the aid programme, to resettle refugees in PNG or, it seems, to detain them in the community while they're waiting for their claims to be processed - the same as happens in Australia. So Labor has allocated a lot of aid money - approaching a billion dollars, in fact - for costs associated with asylum seekers. The coalition has strongly opposed the use of aid for that purpose within Australia's borders. They've talked about this being 'hijacking' of the budget. They have not commented on the use of aid funds for asylum seeker costs offshore. My guess would be that they would, in fact, agree to the use of aid funds for that purpose offshore, while maintaining their opposition to funding asylum seekers within Australia from the aid programme.