I Am a Woman
Don’t get lost in translation, PNG culture is similar to the west’s

As more cuts loom, Australia's aid sector must confront its failures

Julie Bishop
Julie Bishop in her department's Innovation Xchange unit in 2015. The unit develops ideas for delivering aid differently (Andrew Meares)

RICHARD MOORE | Canberra Times | Extract

You can read Richard Moore’s complete article here

CANBERRA - So here we are. Almost five years after the start of the Abbott government's 30% cut to Australia's international development cooperation, we have talk of more cuts.

Fairfax Media reported last week another 10% may be lopped off Australian aid in the May budget. Coming a mere three days after the OECD castigated Australia for spending so little, it illustrates contemptuously the aid sector's lack of impact and influence.

The chances are the media report was leaked by those who support further cuts – or by those who oppose them! It is a test of whether this is an easy budget saving or whether it will have a political sting.

But more importantly, this mooted measure is a test of whether the Turnbull government has a strategic, long-term vision of how we work with countries in the region, to mutual advantage. Further reducing our capacity to do so would be national negligence.

Conservative governments typically start with a sceptical view of ‘foreign aid’ but, in time, come to realise just what development cooperation can achieve.

John Howard reset the relationship with Indonesia after the 2004 tsunami with a $1 billion investment that delivered one of the world's best development programs. Unfortunately, there's little sign of such a renaissance in the border-force era.

How the Asia-Pacific region fares, how it works together, and the rules and values that predominate are critical to our future. Belatedly, we seem to be recognising this, but are showing signs of panic over the rise of China and its influence on regional countries.

Our development programs can help here – addressing common problems, building enduring partnerships, strengthening our regional reputation – but, unfortunately, we have settled for a very limited, inadequate and shrinking role for ‘aid’.

If aid is just charity for the poor, the regional case for it is clearly diminishing. However, if it's about working collaboratively to reduce threats to stability – including accelerating inequality – and build the governance, norms and modes of cooperation that allow us all to prosper, then the case has never been stronger, especially in Asia.

Malcolm Turnbull and Julie Bishop understand this, but many others in parliament and the bureaucracy do not. A complete change of tack is required.

We must recognise that NGO and government assistance are different products and stop trying to turn one into the other. We should separate aid and development cooperation so that each can be presented, funded and organised to suit its purposes.

‘Aid’ would be what the public takes it to be: emergency assistance, direct poverty-alleviation programs and support for non-government grassroots efforts.

It would often be welfare-related and have as a purpose the immediate alleviation of deprivation. It would be needs-based, with less emphasis on geographical focus. As a much smaller part of the whole, it might be easier to win aid increases.

Development cooperation, on the other hand, would have a long-term focus and a much more overt national-interest rationale. The objective would not be to underwrite a trade deal here or an asylum-seeker agreement there, but to focus relentlessly and rigorously on what is needed to maximise long-term regional development in our neighbourhood.

It would be policy, institution and systems-focussed, rather than project-based. It would have a high intellectual content and help drive policy coherence across our diplomatic, security and economic agendas. Funding decisions could then be made rationally on the basis of much better-informed consideration of international threats, opportunities and shared interests.

Unfortunately, Australia has settled for a very limited, inadequate and shrinking role for 'aid'.

Richard Moore is a former deputy director-general of AusAID


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Bernard Corden

Not another whiteboard

Paul Oates

Where previous and current aid programs fail originates from a basic misunderstanding of the stated objectives.

This mostly comes about due to the double speak by politicians over what they say and what they really think and actually mean.

Much has been said about 'Boomerang Aid' and the way aid money tends to end up in the pockets of a select few rather than who it is claimed to be helping.

It's enough to make anyone cynical.

The real question is what can be done to rectify the problem?

Well the first issue is to understand the problem rather than just dismissing the results as trivial or of limited value. Only then can a more considered approach be made to fix the problem.

Recently I tried to have Minister Bishop agree to have part of the Australian Aid program devoted to PNG and named as a quarantined and guaranteed program that promoted our shared history.

This proposal was widely accepted as positive and sponsored by many friends of PNG including the then President of the PNGAA, Andrea Williams. When Ms Williams wrote to Minister Bishop she raised the fact that the proposal was inline with a similarly named AusAID program that has been set up with Indonesia.

The PNG proposal was however personally dismissed out of hand by Julie Bishop with the paltry excuse that the Indonesian precedent was a 'one off' and therefore by default, clearly was more important than our relationship with PNG.

Ministers come and go yet it always seems that Australia's relationship with PNG is reduced to that of a minor irritation. Occasionally to be scratched and then forgotten until the next time another 'bite' happens.

Is it any wonder that PNG leaders have turned their attention to other sponsors than the next door neighbour?

Lindsay F Bond

As to a continuum from 1880s, so 'geo-political priorities' and 'trading and military advantage'.

As to a coincidence, today PNG Attitude tweet (Paige West) links to "Pet Shenanigans Theater".

Philip Fitzpatrick

Apart from the magnificent scenery my relationship with Papua New Guinea is firmly based on the individual friendships I’ve established there.

As Paul Oates notes, we are all human beings and our commonalities far outweigh our differences.

One of the other good things about a relationship based on friendship is that it naturally leads to a sense of equality.

This means that I don’t approach any particular engagement in which I become involved in Papua New Guinea with a sense of superiority.

When we ran the Crocodile Prize, for instance, we were working with fellow writers, there was no teacher/student or other status-based element involved. This is one reason why, I think, the Crocodile Prize succeeded.

Australia purports to be a long-standing friend of Papua New Guinea but I’m not sure this is true, particularly under the watch of our current government.

I think Australia’s approach to Papua New Guinea is now more mercenary and is based on its own geo-political and economic interests more than anything else.

Anything Australia does in Papua New Guinea nowadays seems to be solely based on its own best interests, not on the best interests of Papua New Guinea and certainly not on the best interests of Papua New Guinea’s people.

This is perhaps best illustrated by the way the Manus deal has been subverted from a short term helping hand into a long term, out of sight, out of mind, disaster.

As we all know, the driving force of the great colonial era was based on trading and military advantage.

I think that in the last few years Australia’s relationship with Papua New Guinea has regressed to a colonial mentality.

When I see the latest outrage committed by the government of Papua New Guinea I think of the impact on my friends.

Australia, on the other hand, thinks of the impact in a political sense. It works out the impacts of either ignoring it or saying something that it hopes will pull the Papua New Guinean government back into line with its own geo-political priorities.

Papua New Guinea’s apparently blasé approach to China is one such example. Australia, under the heavy influence of the USA, is very wary of China and when Papua New Guinea courts another outrageous tied loan with China it gets worried, not for Papua New Guinea but for its own political interests.

This shouldn’t be happening. We should not be regarding Papua New Guinea solely as a business partner or pawn in the greater Asia-Pacific pond.

We should be regarding Papua New Guinea as our friend and now that the colonial era is over, our equal friend.

Richard Moore has made a wholly sensible suggestion that Australia should divide its aid budget into two components, one to deal with geo-political and economic interests and the other to deal with humanitarian issues, in short, to sensibly separate our friendships from our business and political interests.

This won’t work under our current government because they don’t seem to be able to differentiate between friends and someone you manipulate for your own advantage.

Whether our alternative government is any different will be interesting to see.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)