Welcoming the Abbott Government’s scheme for more accountability in Australia’s aid spending overseas, Paul McMahon praises the theory, but wonders if it’ll work in practice.


Julie Bishop made a presentation at the Lowy Institute, speaking about new changes to the oversight of the Australian aid program. International assistance is something that should always be scrutinised. Just as we do with our own local funding, we must also count the benefits of our overseas funding, be it for others or ourselves.

What Julie Bishop is proposing may confuse some. She is looking at tallying some of our military funding with our international aid program. This will tell the public and DFAT where our money is going and which country receives it. I would say AusAID, but that part of DFAT was declined in size by cancelling over 500 jobs. Personally, I think (if managed correctly, rarely done by today’s government) it could be beneficial to all.

One thing of which Australians and others must be aware is that Australia currently has the lowest funded aid program in our history. That’s if you ignore the military spending as we always have done. So while I consider the reporting of overseas military spending as a just inclusion, I think it should be met with good political understanding. We have offered military spending in disaster relief the world over and this has been neglected from international statistics. Such things as rescuing natural disaster sufferers by the military are deleted from our contribution.

This is why I consider it a reasonable aid inclusion.

In addition, military aid during a time of need can have long term security benefits and therefore boost a country’s social development, meeting the needs of aid in a more profound step forward.

So my belief is that we must question how and what is included. If all military spending overseas is included we must ask why, and if this actually destroys our understanding of aid in general. For instance, this style of reporting is done by the USA, and once upon a time Afghanistan was included. Bombing and attacking a country because two towers fell to the ground after a terrorist attack? Is Afghanistan technically more developed today? Was the journey the country has been on for the last fifteen years justified as aid for Afghanistan in real terms? If so, who decides this? The UN?

I do not wish to go too far into an Afghanistan debate as that’s murky water, but we need to consider the murky water being thrown on us by this decision. Are we creating an opaque tide of confusion or are we genuinely making a more transparent sight of our aid?

The military in some forms is aid, but the dramatic decline in aid where military spending is not included is where the beast lies.

I praise the general inclusion of military spending as aid. My concern is that it may be used by governments to blanket traditional aid with military spending and therefore simply become defence. With more detail in the future we will see how this form of aid will be included. I think a public discussion about how this aid is assessed is justified for moving forward.


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