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AusAID boss heads off into the bleak unknown

Davis_BruceAusAID director-general Bruce Davis has left his job. It looks like a sudden departure. There is no permanent replacement and he is said to be off to fill an unknown overseas post.

Bruce is 56 and has retired after ten years in the job to “take up a diplomatic post later this year”. He joined the then Australian Development Assistance Agency (ADAB) 34 years ago at age 22. A career bureaucrat.

The Lowy Institute's Graham Dobell wrote in May, as rumours of an imminent departure circulated: "Davis has epitomised the AusAID contradiction: it controls billions but deploys little bureaucratic weight. AusAID’s distance from power is expressed by its comfortable headquarters in Civic, on the other side of the lake from Parliament and DFAT."

Specific criticisms of AusAID include allegations that it services Australian commercial interests through its procurement policies and has misused aid to support foreign policy initiatives such as the so-called Pacific Solution for processing asylum seekers.

AusAID has also been criticised from the right wing, particularly by Helen Hughes of the Centre for Independent Studies who has argued that "aid has failed PNG and the Pacific"  - a criticism of the broad policy of AusAID.

PNG Attitude has seen fit recently to take AusAID to task over its apparent 'hands off' policy in relation to PNG aid - leaving the on the ground decisions to multinational consultancies while it provides the funding.

This has led to a seeming disconnect between objective evidence of what is required at the grassroots and the large amount of money moving between AusAID and the PNG Government.


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John Fowke

I am pleased to see that wisps of smoke emanating from within the AusAID/DFAT complex in Canberra may have coalesced into some sort of internal, physical flurry.

The discrediting of a perceived over-reliance on corporate consultants/contractors as innovators and physical implementers of aid projects in PNG (PM Rudd has been recently quoted on this issue) is to be lauded.

The sudden departure of the long-serving head of AusAID last week, for reasons unexplained, may be of course be unconnected with any new perception of an ivory-tower-like, solipsistic rule, where billions are authorised and spent without independent review, without published critique, and without due reference when new plans are hatched.

Maybe, just maybe, the rule of what my first boss in PNG, the late Dick White, described as "the long-haired men and the short-haired women who're going to .... this country, young Fowke!"- as in the case of AusAID, anyway - is to be tempered by the growth of a mindset which seeks the experience of people who actually live in and understand PNG/Melanesian culture and aspirations.

People focussed by a knowledge of history and on-the-ground actuality,as opposed to an ideological imprinting received as apprentices in that great Canberra kitchen where our serving Pacific Experts are baked.

Mari Ellingson

Thanks Keith for this item on Bruce Davis. This is news indeed! Wow another AusAID rock gone! I not only knew Bruce but worked with him on the PNG-Australia aid relationship in my former life as FAS Foreign Aid Coordination and Management, Dept National Planning, then Deputy Secretary, Dept National Planning, then acting Secretary, Dept National Planning. Whatever comments I have on the PNG-Australia aid programme are probably best kept for another forum. However, I could perhaps if I may have a stab in that direction in a form of a question: everyone contributed to the changing face of AusAID, but did we all equally contribute to the changing face of PNG's development?
I wish Bruce the best in his future endeavours.

Bernard Oberleuter

I knew Bruce Davis during his ADAB years. If not for ADAB’s secondment arrangements for Australian career public servants to serve in the pre/post independence era, we would have had very little success in progressing PNG Public Servants to senior executive positions in the accelerated localisation program.

I was instrumental in conducting a Supply Organisation and Methods review for PSC Chairman Namaliu when the PNG Supply & Tenders Board was anchored in the PNG Consulate-General office in Clarence Street, Sydney.

I was able to successfully negotiate and source secondment of Australian public servants to the PNG Public Service in numerous disciplines such as doctors, lawyers, radiographers, lighthouse technicians, tax auditors, financial planners, accountants, specialist teachers and lecturers, etcetera.

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