The government’s recent aid White Paper raised hopes
that a first down payment on the Prime Minister’s 2005 commitment to double
aid by 2010 would be forthcoming. That did not happen.

While the White
Paper offered an impressive vision and plan for Australia’s aid partnership with
developing countries, the budget offered a mere 2.4% spending increase
(excluding a one-off, debt cancellation to oil rich Iraq). Even if the Prime
Minister’s commitment is reached, many Australians would be perplexed by that,
despite having the OECD’s most successful economy and burgeoning surpluses,
Australia will still be in the bottom four of all OECD aid donors in 2010.

One of the White Paper’s features was to expand partnership between
government and civil society organisations here and in developing countries to
build better governance systems. Those organisations in developing countries
include churches, women’s organisations, youth groups, community-based
development and media outlets. Working with these groups was critical in
Bougainville to resolve conflict.

Australia’s non-profit development
organisations have worked closely with counterpart community organisations in
over 60 poor countries for decades. In addition to developing effective health,
education, livelihood, water and other programs, they have assisted the
Australian Government to strengthening weak governance systems in Melanesia,
East Timor and elsewhere. Given the exceptionally weak civil society systems in
our neighbouring countries, now would be the right time for government and
non-government agencies to work more closely together.

That’s why the
Government’s decision to downsize the role of Australia’s non-profit development
agencies from 4.4% of the aid budget to 3.8% was strange. It also contradicted a
recommendation of the Government’s expert White Paper panel.

This
downsizing of Australian non-profit agencies as partners with the official aid
program comes at a time when Australian community support for poverty
alleviation is increasing. Australians are the second most generous citizens in
the world for global poverty alleviation, with over 12% annual growth in private
donations to our professional development organisations. A Roy Morgan poll last
year confirmed that Australians also have greater confidence in the
effectiveness of Australian non-profit development agencies than the Government
program.

If ever there was a time to forge a stronger partnership with
these agencies and follow the lead of the community, it was in this budget.

Peter Fray

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