"NGOs in Australia are set to receive a larger chunk of the pie, though ... it will be a scramble for NGOs to quickly fit their programs into new frameworks."Critics of the merger are concerned blatant alignment of foreign policy objectives with aid would de-prioritise the goal of poverty alleviation, and reduce the integrity of the work. With a probable refocusing of the objectives of aid to primarily assist foreign policy, programs and projects likely to be cut will be those which have had a strong development mandate, with programs directly benefiting Australian interests remaining (and potentially increasing). Prime Minister Tony Abbott said it made little sense for diplomacy to be steering foreign policy in one direction with aid working in another, indicating an understanding that Australia’s foreign policy can be damaging to the world’s poor and contrary to AusAID's development mandate. NGOs in Australia are set to receive a larger chunk of the pie, though with a change in performance indicators and ideology for AusAID, it will be a scramble for NGOs to quickly fit their programs into new frameworks. Bishop has signalled aid to multilateral organisations like the UN, Asian Development Bank (ADB) will be significantly reduced. Multilateral organisations and institutions have long been criticised for being ineffective, costly and lacking in accountability, as evidenced by the AusAID and ADB Cambodian Railways Project. There seems to be a broader policy of preferring a bilateral approach. Bishop says aid for trade will be a trademark of the aid program. Aggressively pursuing free trade agreements (FTA) appears to be crucial. The Coalition said the Pacific FTA agreement, PACER-Plus wasn’t moving forward quickly enough so a bilateral approach would be taken, with other Pacific nationals able to opt in later. "Foreign policy will be trade policy, and trade policy will be foreign policy," Bishop said. Infrastructure projects will gain a larger chunk of aid spending with Bishop determined to ensure that Australia gains greater recognition for assistance -- larger billboards, Australian flags. AusAID staff at embassies will be fully integrated into the diplomatic network, as AusAID staff in Canberra will be subsumed into the existing DFAT staff. This will impact program effectiveness on the ground. This has been demonstrated through militarising aid, such as in Afghanistan, with aid work being rendered ineffective and even dangerous for those involved when the aid is seen as linked with foreign political and military objectives. What will remain the same? The Coalition has committed to honouring previous deals made with the PNG government in return for continuing with a regional processing centre for asylum seekers and resettling refugees. Maintaining this hefty payout will require cuts in other areas of the aid budget. Using the aid budget to cover costs of the refugee policy at home isn’t new, though may point to an ongoing commitment to divert aid back to Australia for in-country costs of the policy. Another initiative that will be maintained or expanded is the seasonal worker program. This allows Australian horticulture businesses to employ people from the Pacific during harvest -- construed by the government as a commitment to the economic development of the Pacific through remittances. While remittances are important sources of income for communities, the program is supporting Australian business and industry interests by filling a labour gap, and the sustainability of the work is not guaranteed. *AID/WATCH is an independent, membership-based monitor of Australia's aid, trade and investment
Crikey Clarifier: what the overhaul of Australian aid will mean
Tony Abbott is overhauling aid, cutting funding, merging AusAID with DFAT and reorienting spending. Aid expert Thulsi Narayanasamy looks into the changes and what they will mean.