Who profits from our foreign aid? Today, continuing Crikey‘s special coverage, we carve up the cake to show who’s getting what from Australia’s foreign aid budget.

The biggest benefactors are not who you think. Rather than the big NGOs, who actually get very little government aid money to deliver programs, the little-known Coffey International tops the list (we’ll delve into them next week). Here are the key findings:

  • Corporations get the majority of Australian aid contracts and nearly 85% of the value of those contracts
  • Six corporations get between them more than half of the value of the contracts
  • The corporate share is even larger when you consider the university sector also is nearly always under pressure to include corporate-style profit margins as they seek to compensate for government funding cuts
  • Coffey International gets the largest share and in one year got 37% of the value of the contracts
  • A dramatic shift from NGOs to corporates took place over the Howard years — before 2003, NGOs got a larger share of contracts
  • The aid budget has increased under the Rudd government but for the most part it has been business as usual
  • The proportion of aid contracts going to corporates has slightly declined under Labor with most of the shift going to individuals rather than aid NGOs
  • Many individuals are also trading as small businesses but if the business only appeared to have one or two individuals, these contracts have been included with individuals
  • Contracts often last for several years so some trends across the years may simply reflect that the companies have plenty of work on the books.




Big corporates’ % of total AusAID contract value — 2007-10

Contract value
CARDNO $572,188,330.40 15.24
COFFEY $820,577,546.60 21.85
GRM $449,644,573.80 11.97
HASSALL & GHD $170,341,030.60 4.54
HK LOGISTICS $144,562,905.30 2.42
JTA $90,832,430.96 3.85
TOTAL — BIG CORPORATES $2,248,146,817.66 59.87

No. and % of total contracts by sector — 1/07/07 to 30/6/10

Category No. of contracts %
Corporate 3389 62.67
Other govt departments 67 1.24
Unis and other educational bodies 308 5.70
NGOs and business associations 339 6.27
Individuals 1027 22.32
Other development agencies 55 1.02
Other 43 0.79

How we did the analysis: A new Australian tender database was created in 2007 and the old one was phased out. For this reason, it is not possible to analyse the earlier contracts. The Senate does publish the contracts but only ones above $100,000 which eliminates a lot of contracts and money.

You can only download a limited number of contracts from the www.tenders.gov.au website in one go, so we downloaded the database in sections and created a new Excel file. We then coded the database according to the type of supplier — corporate, individual and so on. We were then were able to create the charts and the tables and identify the big contractors. We know from our research that the database is not entirely accurate or up to date — but with a sample of more than 5000 entries, the trends are clear.

*Wendy Bacon is the Director of the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism and Shu Shu He is studying a Master of Arts (Journalism) at UTS. Read previous articles in the ‘Who profits from our foreign aid?’ series here.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey