Aid strategy hamstrung by deep cuts, lack of direction, peak groups say

They say dramatic shifts in neighbours’ priorities and changes in geo-strategic dynamics have not been matched by adjustments to the way aid is spent.

“At the moment, there’s no rhyme nor reason to how the budget is being done in Asia,” ACFID chief executive Marc Purcell said.

“We’ve been hamstrung by a declining budget and not having a clearly articulated strategy based on a solid analysis of what our neighbours need from us in the coming decade.”

Australia now spends nine times as much on defence as it does on foreign aid, up from five times as much in 2012.

“It’s not an either-or, but aid bolsters security and it means better longer-term relationships,” Mr Purcell said.


The Coalition has cut billions of dollars from aid in recent years, putting Australia in the bottom third of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries on generosity. It has redirected efforts to the South Pacific but slashed spending in Asia and all but ended it in Africa.

The Morrison government has frozen aid at $4 billion each year until 2021-22, after which it will rise by the rate of inflation. This would dip the aid budget down to a record low of 0.18 per cent of gross national income (GNI) in 2022-23, compared with 0.35 percent of GNI under the former Labor government.

Labor aims to increase aid to 0.5 per cent of GNI but has not said by when.

Mr Purcell said an initial increase of $250 million a year would be “realistic”. He said one focus of the review should be climate change assistance.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres will tour the Pacific next week. He is expected to join regional leaders in making a strong statement about climate change, a particular concern for low-lying island nations.

David Wroe is defence and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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