We have seen in recent weeks how a lack of honesty and transparency has devastated Melbourne Storm fans. In Greece, we are seeing the consequences for a government that has not been frank about its finances.

As tomorrow’s Federal Budget looms, it is vital that the Australian government avoids similar funny money games and is transparent in the outlay of all its funds.

Transparency in foreign aid means that everyone can see how much money is being provided, what it is being spent on, and what it aims to achieve.  The public can better understand how their taxes are being used to fight poverty, donors and development agencies can better co-ordinate efforts, and parliaments and NGOs can track aid flows and ensure that aid is spent wisely.

After last year’s UN climate-change summit, the Australian government made a promise to provide urgent funding for developing countries to deal with the early impacts of climate change. In the Copenhagen Accord, developed countries that signed on agreed to provide poorer nations with $30 billion for the period 2010 to 2012, to help them limit their emissions and adapt to a warmer world.

Having made this commitment, the Australian government needs to explain how it will meet its promise in next week’s federal Budget.

The government must also be transparent and show the Australian public where the funds for “fast start” climate financing are coming from. We cannot afford to play “funny money” games with the poor.  It’s true that climate financing is going to help poor communities. However, the public has the right to know how aid money is being spent and that the money is only spent once — not just recycled from older aid commitments.

Aid money must not be diverted from existing aid projects for climate financing because it will endanger the progress made in tackling the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The MDGs were developed at the Millennium Summit in September 2000, when member states of the United Nations, including Australia, reaffirmed their commitment to eliminate global poverty and hunger, and to improve health, gender equality, education and environmental sustainability.

If we meet our “fast start” promise by diverting money from existing aid projects it’s going to cost lives.

In his 2010 annual letter, Bill Gates wrote: “I am concerned that some of this money will come from reducing other categories of foreign aid, especially health … if just 1 percent of the $100 billion goal [for long-term climate finance] came from vaccine funding, then 700,000 more children could die from preventable diseases.”

The federal government needs to recognise through its Budget measures that climate change is a new, big problem and one that we cannot put aside. Thanks to its low levels of government debt, Australia is best placed among the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries to provide fast start climate financing and we should play a leadership role in lobbying for increased transparency internationally so climate funds are not stolen from already established and much-needed aid programs.

If the Australian government takes a leadership role on this issue, it may regain some of the credibility lost at home and on the world stage as a result of its decision to freeze plans to legislate for a price on carbon.

Last week, World Vision was announced as the winner of the 2009 PricewaterhouseCoopers Transparency Awards. This initiative recognises the quality and transparency of reporting in the not-for-profit sector.

For a values-based organisation such as World Vision, how we do things is as important as the results we achieve.  The public benefit nature of our work means that we have a responsibility to demonstrate that our operations, policies, governance structures and decision-making processes are consistent with the values we advocate.

World Vision Australia is working hard with our partners to enhance the openness of our global partnership and things are moving in the right direction, although we know there is still more work to be done.

In recent years World Vision Australia’s public reports have very intentionally sought to be up front about the challenges and complexities involved in doing good development and humanitarian work. We understand the importance of transparency and the role it plays in building trust with the public and other key stakeholders.

The Australian government needs to work hard on its transparency too, unless of course, it wants its reputation sidelined like the disgraced Melbourne Storm executives.

Peter Fray

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