"This aid policy isn’t an overhaul, it’s business as usual.""Aid for trade" paves a way to further Australia’s commitment to trade liberalisation in the Pacific region. The PACER-Plus free trade agreement is presented as a helping hand to Pacific island countries. The reality is Australia is aggressively pursuing an agreement that sees Australia and New Zealand overwhelmingly gain, with nothing of value for Pacific island countries on the table. Except aid. Bishop’s "new" policy elevates the role of the private sector to that of benevolent development partner; a "force for good". The private sector has long benefitted from the aid budget through "boomerang aid" -- private contractors and companies overwhelmingly win. The Australian Extractives industry is bolstered, using foreign aid to subsidise the cost of their corporate welfare programs and whitewash their image through the promotion of "sustainable mining". The aid-funded Cambodia Railways Project that led to forced evictions and further impoverishment of over 4000 families directly benefitted an Australian company. Such an uncritical approach to business suggests a failure to adequately negotiate the role that many corporations have played in human rights abuse, breaching labour standards, and environmental degradation. This is the role of big business that is most readily identified by those on the receiving end of foreign investment. Many have pointed out that the most important role big business can play is ensuring that the private sector conducts itself in accordance with human rights and environmental standards. And the most important role the government can play is holding them to account for their penchant for breaching these standards. The language of economic partnership and mutual obligation, along with a stronger focus on Australia’s national interest, and stringent performance benchmarks, signal a return to tied aid. Programs deemed ineffective can be cut after one year. Tied aid is a controversial tool that is often used to advance the interests of the donor country by making aid conditional. Aid was formally untied in 2006 though it continues to be a bargaining chip. Need to build a lock-up for refugees on Manus Island? Offer PNG an increase in aid allocation amidst widespread cuts. Australia is a signatory to the Paris Declaration of Aid Effectiveness which acknowledges that aid should not be driven by donor priorities; so aid policy shouldn’t be based on Australia’s commercial or domestic considerations. Given the government’s focus on the Indo-Pacific, the complete omission of action on climate change is out of step. The very existence of many Pacific island nations is threatened by climate change. Climate aid funding was cut months ago and hasn’t been reinstated. This omission is in stark contrast to the addition of a focus on girls and women across 80% of the aid budget. This development has been largely welcomed, though there has been little indication on how this will translate to effective programs targeting gender inequality. More likely this will signal a token acknowledgement of the experiences of women in programming, known as "gender mainstreaming". The government’s ideological repackaging of a substantially similar aid policy means that there is little space to have a meaningful debate about what isn’t working. There is no engagement with questions about the global economic and political structures that perpetuate poverty. Unjust trade rules, the wealth disparity that arises from unfettered economic growth, the devastation of local industry and cultural practices through foreign investment -- these are just some examples of the issues that impact on the persistence of poverty which are not taken into account. This aid policy isn’t an overhaul, it’s business as usual. * Thulsi Narayanasamy is the Director of AID/WATCH, Australia’s independent monitor of foreign aid and trade
There are problems with foreign aid, but Bishop has solved none of them
An "overhaul" of Australia's foreign aid program is largely not new, and fundamentally fails to address the difficult questions on how to make aid more effective. Aid analyst Thulsi Narayanasamy unpacks the policy.