Transparency around Australia’s international aid spending has tanked, with independent global aid watchdog Publish What You Fund ranking the country 41st on a list of 50 donor countries and organisations, just in front of nations like Saudi Arabia, China and Turkey.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) — the division responsible for allocating the money reserved for fighting poverty and promoting prosperity worldwide — now sits at the bottom of the “fair” category, just shy of being labelled “poor.”

The department ranked 34 out of 47 organisations in the previous report, and 23rd out of 45 in 2018.

The index ranks organisations and countries against 35 indicators in six categories: organisational planning, finance, project attributes, development data and performance. Australia performed lowest in the finance component, critical for tracking exactly how and where the aid budget is spent.

"Of the organisational planning and commitments indicators, DFAT performed poorly and below average for its grouping,” the report wrote. “DFAT also performed significantly below average with regards to finances and budgets. DFAT improved its performance score after not scoring any points in the 2020 Index. DFAT has started to publish objectives data but only for about 9% of its activities.”

According to activists in the development sector, having access to an open and honest aid budget is utterly vital. 

"Global foreign aid transparency matters because as nations try to reach the Sustainable Development Goals, this measure will act as the foundation for aid effectiveness and accountability,” poverty alleviation nonprofit The Borgen Projectstates. “Aid transparency is important to donor and recipient governments as well as civil society.”

Foreign policy expert Alexandre Dayant, from the Lowy Institute think thank, concurs. 

"Without clear and open communication, donors run the risk of crowding each other out and duplication,” Dayant explains. “Critics argue that this results in huge administrative costs for both donors and recipients, and this lack of coordination can be especially detrimental for developing nations that have limited capacity to deal with potentially hundreds of uncoordinated donor agencies.”

Australia’s Labor Government — elected in May after almost a decade of conservative rule — has long promised to reverse precious, successive cuts to the nation’s foreign aid budget. When elected, the foreign aid budget sat at its lowest level in history, at just 0.19% of gross national income. 

The rate is considered one of the lowest among any developed country.

The party has promised to increase the aid percentage of gross national incomes each year, with the first pledge to come in the form of a $525 million allocation increase for Australia’s Pacific neighbours over the next four years.

"The new funding will support Australian bilateral and regional aid and development projects in Pacific countries and Timor-Leste. It will be used both to expand existing projects and to develop new projects,” Labor explains on its website. “Pacific aid projects will support economic growth, health, education, water, sanitation and hygiene needs, climate change adaptation and resilience, gender equality and support for people with disability.”

For Publish What You Fund, any future alterations to the aid budget must accompany the publication of organisation documents and audits, regular data updates, line item budget reporting and pre- and post-impact appraisals and results.


Demand Equity

Australia Ranks Among Bottom 10 for Aid Spending Transparency: World List

By Madeleine Keck