Australia has pledged five million dollars in response to Nepal’s earthquake and another five million to Cyclone Pam one month ago. The Government’s contributions were branded modest, but did they really have to give anything at all?
Dr Jennifer Corrin of the T.C. Beirne School of Law at The University of Queensland says Australia’s foreign aid regime needs to be less reactive and more proactive.
“There needs to be much more depth to the research and strategies about where that foreign aid goes,” Dr Corrin said.
“You may end up spending more money on trying to rectify something like a civil war than if you had a proactive policy in advance.”
Foreign aid is often reshaped and reviewed with each new government. Under the Abbott Government, foreign aid was cut by $4.5 billion from 2014-2017 and AusAID, the agency that manages most of Australia’s aid, was integrated into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The Abbott Government also pledged to increase aid by 0.5 per cent with no specified time limit.
Dr Corrin says that Australia has no legal obligation to provide foreign aid to developing countries.
“It’s a political obligation. That depends on the party that is in government and depends on what kind of aid it is,” Dr Corrin said.
“If it’s humanitarian obviously the political motivator for that is a bit different.
“If there’s been a disaster for example everybody would expect them to do it.”
Australia’s aid efforts are predominately focused on the Southern, Eastern and Western Asia. Dr Corrin says Australia’s aid is directed strategically.
“The countries that we give aid to are not the countries nearest to us,” Dr Corrin said.
“If it were, we would choose those small pacific islands which are right on our doorstep as opposed to Asian countries.
“I think Asian countries have been chosen in a lot of cases for trade implications.”
Dr Corrin says the aid Australia gave to the Solomon Islands from the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) from 2003 to 2013 did not foster independence in the Solomon Islands.
“We didn’t do very much in terms of ongoing support aid,” she said.
“When the Solomon Island’s governmental framework was fractured, a quick reaction from Australia was not put into place.
“You may end up spending more money on trying to rectify something like a civil war than if you’d have had a proactive policy in advance.”
According to the Lowy Institute, RAMSI cost the Australian government $2.6 billion in response to political and civil unrest in the Solomon Islands.
The project spanned ten years and elevated the Solomon Islands to the second most aid dependent country in the world from its previous ranking of 35th.
Aid makes up 22 per cent of the Solomon Island’s Gross National Income.
Dr Corrin says Australia’s aid efforts need to prioritise education rather than direction for aid recipients.
“In the Pacific island countries, consultants come in, do the job themselves and then they disappear again. They don’t actually train on the spot,” she said.
“When they go they might have actually achieved some project-based outcome, but they haven’t contributed to human capital.
“Education and training should be higher on the agenda rather than sending in consultants to do a frontline position.”