The politics of Australian Aid Policy


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AT a IDS guest seminar Andrew Rosser examines how Australian aid policy is made and what impact AusAid can have, given the fact that it is now one of the OECD’s ten largest bilateral donors.

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The politics of Australian Aid Policy

  1. 1. IDS Guest Seminar: The Politics of Australian Aid Policy Andrew RosserVisiting Fellow in the Governance team at IDS and Australian Research Council Future Fellow at the University of Adelaide 19 September 2012 Institute of Development Studies
  2. 2. Introduction• Questions: – What are the main determinants of Australian aid policy? – Who are the key actors involved in making Australian aid policy? – What have been the key political issues in Australian aid policy in recent years and how have these been resolved? – What will Australian aid policy look like in the future?
  3. 3. Primer on Australian Politics Federal and state governments: aid is a federal issue Bicameral parliamentary system: House of Representatives plus Senate.  different voting systems Political parties:  Major parties: Australian Labor Party and the Liberal- National Coalition.  Minor political parties (e.g. Greens) and independents, mainly (but not only) in the Senate.
  4. 4.  Recent federal governments:  Hawke-Keating Labor (1983-1996)  Howard Coalition (1996-2007)  Rudd-Gillard Labor (2007-present)  since 2010 a minority government  Abbott Coalition (2013-onward)??
  5. 5. Main Determinants of AustralianAid Policy Structural  Structural power of capital has predisposed the Australian government, regardless of whether it has been led by the ALP or the Coalition, towards neoliberal policies. This has extended to the area of aid policy sector, notwithstanding the fact that it is relatively low profile.
  6. 6.  Institutional  AusAID is an ‘autonomous’ agency within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and there is no separate Minister for Overseas Development.  So aid policy tends to be heavily influenced by foreign policy concerns.
  7. 7.  Aid policy-making has been an executive dominated process  It has taken the form of Ministerial Statements to parliament, statements in budget papers, White Papers etc. rather than laws.  So the government of the day has been able to more or less hand-pick who writes Australian aid policy. The opposition and the minor political parties (e.g. Greens) haven’t gotten a look in.
  8. 8. • Foreign Policy Differences Between Major Parties – Generally, Australian foreign policy has been characterised by a high degree of bipartisanship. However: • ‘The ALP has always seen itself as more open to multilateral and ‘idealistic’ influences in foreign policy’ while the Coalition has presented itself as more concerned with promoting Australia’s national interests, in accordance with realist thinking in IR (Dalrymple 2003)
  9. 9.  In aid policy, this has meant:  greater willingness to deliver aid through and engage with multilaterals (in particular the UN) under the ALP than the Coalition  greater willingness to broaden the geographic orientation of the aid program to countries outside Australia’s immediate region under the ALP than the Coalition;  greater emphasis on the need for Australian aid policy to serve the ‘national interest’ under the Coalition than the ALP; ALP by contrast emphasises being ‘a good international citizen’.
  10. 10.  International Trends in Aid Policy  Australia has tended to be a follower rather than a leader in the production of development policy ideas  World Bank and DFID in particular have been key reference points  Disability has been an exception
  11. 11.  Geo-political/economic Context  Growing levels of affluence in Asia  end of India and China bilateral aid programs  increased concern with promoting development in middle- income countries  Competition from new donors
  12. 12. Key Actors• The broad parameters of Australian aid policy have historically been mapped out during major reviews of the aid program: – Jackson review: 1983 – Simons review: 1996 – White Paper: 2006 – Independent Review of Aid Effectiveness: 2011• Key actors in these reviews: – Orthodox economists – Representatives from the business community – DFAT and NGOs much less involved
  13. 13. Key Issues Objective of the aid program  The issue: the relative emphasis on ‘national interest’ vs. poverty-related concerns.  Downer (1997): the objective of the aid program is ‘to advance Australia’s national interest by assisting developing countries to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development’.
  14. 14. – ALP (2011): ‘The fundamental purpose of Australian aid is to help people overcome poverty. This also serves Australia’s national interest by promoting stability both in our region and beyond. We focus our efforts in areas where Australia can make a difference and where our resources can most efficiently and effectively be deployed’• What status do the MDGs have in Australian aid policy?
  15. 15. Australian ODA: 1972-2007 0.6 0.5 0.4Aid as % GNI 0.3 0.2 0.1 0 1972 1976 1980 1984 1988 1992 1996 2000 2004
  16. 16.  Size of aid budget  There has been bipartisan commitment to increased aid.  In 2005, PM Howard announced a doubling of the Australian aid program by 2010.  In the run-up to the 2007 election, the ALP announced that aid would increase to 0.5 of 1% of GNI, a commitment the Coalition subsequently matched
  17. 17.  But this commitment has proven hard to keep  Looking to shore up its economic credentials, the Gillard government announced in 2012 that it would delay achievement of the 0.5 target by one year.  The Coalition has indicated a willingness to cut aid when it is politically expedient.  e.g. proposal to cut Indonesian schools program following QLD floods.
  18. 18.  Geographical focus  There is bipartisan commitment to a focus on the Asia- Pacific  But aid spending on sub-Saharan Africa has been ramped up dramatically in recent years  also Latin America but to a much lesser extent.  But how far can this go?  The Coalition has indicated some doubt about this shift.
  19. 19.  Sectoral focus  Growth vs. education and environment Aid delivery mechanisms
  20. 20. If Abbott, Then What? Ideological orientation of aid program  unlikely to change dramatically but possibly some scepticism towards whatever replaces the MDGs Objective of the aid program  likely to be a reassertion of ‘national interest’ concerns
  21. 21.  Size of the aid budget  The Coalition is formally committed to the 0.5 target.  But it will almost certainly be looking to make cuts to government spending if it wins office  My guess is that, in the absence of a major economic downturn, the Coalition will meet the 0.5 and the out things on hold for a while. Thereafter, they’ll follow international trends
  22. 22.  Geographical orientation of the aid program  aid to Africa likely to stay because  of concerns about reputational damage if it withdraws and  growing wealth in Asia. The latter raises very difficult questions about how Australia engages with Asia and the role of aid in this process.  This issue has already been discussed at the Shadow cabinet table  but.......
  23. 23.  Institutional  Current coalition policy is to create new Ministerial appointment in Overseas Aid (not clear if senior or junior) but not upgrade AusAID to department status Sectoral focus  Reassertion of economic growth