The government should replace the term “aid” with “development partnership” to emphasis the mutual benefits of its foreign aid program and make it more palatable to the public, a parliamentary committee recommends.
In a report tabled on April 4, the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade “strongly recommends” removing the word ‘aid’ from the terminology to convey the two-way benefits of the program.
Such a move would also suggest co-operation and partnership instead of charity, and would make the program more acceptable to the public, it says.
“The Committee strongly recommends that the Australian Government change the name of the ‘Aid’ program to ‘Development Partnerships’ (or a similar name such as ‘Development Co-operation’ or ‘Australian Partnerships’), which emphasises the mutual two-way benefits to Australia and recipient nations of our aid program … reflects a view of co-operation and partnership instead of a perceived or implied one-way ‘paternalism’ or ‘charity’, and would likely encourage greater public support for the program – Inquiry into Australia’s aid program in the Indo Pacific.
The report says Australia’s foreign aid focus has recently shifted to the Indo-Pacific region where, among other things, significant strides have been made towards empowering women and girls.
However, the committee notes trade is not a one-way street, but also brings Australia benefits in trade, defence, health and biosecurity, as well as providing a strategic foothold in the region.
Australia’s aid expenditure at ‘historic low’
The report says there’s a need to boost public confidence in the aid program, with many Australians having an inflated perception of how much is being spent.
According to the the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee, Australian’s aid budget has shrunk by about 30 per cent since 2013 and is currently at a ‘historic low’.
More than $4 billion was allocated for overseas development assistance in 2018-19, representing about 0.86 per cent of Commonwealth spending. Budget papers released last week put the figure for 2019-20 at $36.7 billion.
However, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade told the committee that recent surveys showed ‘mixed levels of public support’ for the country’s aid program.
Polling by the Lowy Institute in 2017 indicated that 73 per cent of respondents said the aid budget – approximately $3.8 billion at the time – was either ‘too much’ or ‘about the right amount’. Only 22 per cent said that the budget was ‘not enough
DFAT suggested several reasons for the current low level of public support for Australia’s aid program, including lack of awareness about what the program does, how it operates and how much is spent. Some members of the community questioned whether the money was being appropriately spent or if assistance was getting where it was needed.
Strengthening public support is essential for the sustainability of the program, the report says
“Australia has the capacity to do more, but the support of the Australian people is critical. The Committee hopes that the aid program can be better understood, not as a one-way street, but as a partnership that benefits Australia and our partner countries,” Foreign Affairs and Aid Sub‑Committee Chair Chris Crewther said .
Increased funding for foreign aid
The report recommends a ten-year time frame to increase aid investment.
It says within a year the government should set a five-year deadline to increase funding for “development partnerships” to at least 0.5 per cent of gross national income, and reach 0.7 per cent within ten years.
It also recommends the government implementing recommendations from a 2017 inquiry into modern slavery to reduce the potential for misuse of aid, donations and volunteerism, and says there should be clearer local procurement guidelines to prioritise goods and services from within a ‘development partnership’ area.