Australia Dominates Aid Efforts Within Pacific Island Nations
Despite Australia’s stringent aid budget, the nation contributes more than any other country.
The Pacific Islands have one of the highest dependencies on aid worldwide.
Details surrounding the exact scope and growth of foreign aid, however, have long been clouded by a lack of clarity and accessible data.
Attempting to bring transparency to the regions aid investment is Australian foreign policy think-tank the Lowy Institute.
The institute has released an interactive map that details all-inclusive aid statistics for the Pacific, including information on where exactly foreign aid is going and how it is evolving.
Given Australia’s size and geographic location in the Pacific, it was unsurprisingly the region's largest donor.
Between 2011 and 2017, Australia contributed $8.7 billion amongst every country in the region, dominating the investment from all other nations. China and New Zealand sit in second and third place respectively, with both giving roughly one sixth of Australia’s contribution.
China’s increased investment in the region has drawn criticism from the Australian Government. According to the released Lowy statistics, 70% of Chinese aid comes comes in the form of cheap loans, something Canberra feels could trap Pacific countries in debt.
Director of the Lowy Institute Jonathan Pryke believes the released statistics reinforce what was already predicted: that Australian aid is “critically important” to the Pacific.
“Australia’s foreign aid equates to roughly 3% of regional gross national income and our engagement is stitched into the fabric of these countries, in governance, in health, in education, in humanitarian support,” he told ABC News. “You name it, Australia is probably involved in it."
In a period of significant Australian aid cuts, the region has remained relatively unscathed. The Pacific aid program was protected from cuts earlier this year, with funding approved to construct undersea internet cables to connect Australia with the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea. Even so, the Pacific cannot escape Australia’s aid budget crackdown entirely. Australia’s contribution fell from $1.68 billion in 2011 to $1.08 billion in 2016.
On Aug. 10, an inquiry into the strategic effectiveness and outcomes of Australia’s aid program in the Indo-Pacific was held at the Parliament of Victoria.
Organisations including Oxfam, the Refugee Council of Australia, Save the Children, the International Women’s Development Agency, and the Australian Disability and Development Organisation examined the strengths and weaknesses of the nations aid program, as well as its success in supporting Australia’s regional interests.
The general consensus among the organisations revolved around calls for Australia to expand its geopolitical influence by increasing foreign aid from the current rate of 0.22% of gross national income to 0.7%. The importance of comprehending the significant link between Australia’s future economic growth and the region's prosperity and stability were similarly unanimous.
In Oxfam’s submission to the inquiry, the organisation stated Australia’s Pacific aid program must be liberal, and foster support for the development and success of Pacific states.
“Australia’s aid program should aim to eradicate, not just reduce poverty,” Oxfam stated. “To do that, Australian aid must be innovative, accountable to people living in poverty, and backed by strong bipartisan commitment.”
In Melbourne CBD today Chairing the Foreign Affairs & Aid Sub-Committee’s “Inquiry into the strategic effectiveness and outcomes of Australia's aid program in the Indo-Pacific and its role in supporting Australia's regional interests”.— Chris Crewther MP (@ChrisCrewtherMP) August 10, 2018
A very topical issue at the moment!
Director of Research, Policy and Advocacy at the International Women’s Development Agency Caroline Lambert called for additional elongated funding to be given to feminist organisations within the Pacific to help shift long held discriminatory gender norms.
“Flip cards are being dispersed in the highlands of Papua New Guinea showing different types of violence against women, which in turn allows for open conversation about the legislative changes that have been enacted in the country. That violence against women is no longer legal, that penalties now apply,” she announced. “But, this work takes a long time. This is one of the reasons why we say we need investment over elongated periods. It's also one of the reasons we encourage investment in feminist organisations because they are the ones on the ground who have an understanding of the particular cultural nuances that need to be addressed in order to overcome these structural and normative challenges.”
Over recent weeks, Australia’s unrelenting drought has sparked a debate that calls for Australia’s foreign aid budget to be redirected to support struggling farmers.
When asked her opinion, Lucy Hodson from the Australian Disability and Development Organisation told the inquiry such suggestions made little sense.
“Australians have the wrong statistics when it comes to foreign aid. Australians think the nations foreign aid program is 17.5 times more generous than it actually is. There is a huge miscomprehension around this suggestion, it is not based in fact,” she stated. “To quote the agriculture minister, if we put $300 million into foreign aid in Indonesia, in reality we are making $3 billion in trade and agriculture products. So it is not an us vs them situation. We live in a global economy.”
The federal government has announced the total aid budget for 2018 and 2019 will be $4.2 billion. In 2021, a record low is expected, with just 19 cents of every $100 of gross national income going toward foreign aid.