Foreign Minister outlines aid program revamp

The Friendship bridge built with Australian funding and completed and opened in 1994, crossing the Mekong River.

The federal government says Australia's foreign aid will undergo a dramatic change.

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

The federal government says Australia's foreign aid will undergo a dramatic change.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says governments of recipient countries will have to sign up to performance benchmarks, to better monitor how Australian taxpayers' dollars are spent.

And she says the radical changes to aid programs will include greater involvement of the private sector.

Amanda Cavill reports.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

Ms Bishop has released the details of the nation's revamped foreign aid policy at the National Press Club, saying 90 per cent of Australia's aid program will be diverted to Australia's immediate neighbourhood in the Indo-Pacific region.

She's outlined what she calls the government's aid for trade agenda for Australia's $5 billion aid budget, including new performance benchmarks.

"We have aligned the goal of poverty reduction with the pursuit of regional economic growth. This goal is in Australia's national interest as well as unambiguously in the interests of our region. It is consistent with our focus on economic diplomacy, just as traditional diplomacy seeks to promote peace, economic diplomacy seeks to promote prosperity. The performance framework is agnostic about how aid is delivered, other than to ensure it is effective and efficient and we partner with the most effective organisations that have the capability to achieve the best possible results."

The government says its new approach to aid delivery is part of a policy change which uses Australia's assistance program not as charity but an investment in the region.

It stresses stronger partnerships with the private sector, encouraging companies to develop programs specifically designed to reduce poverty in the region.

The government says it will establish a Development Innovation Hub within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade at a cost of $140 million over four years.

That hub will draw on experts and creative thinkers from the private sector to work on the most intractable problems in aid and development.

Ms Bishop says all new aid investments must consider innovative ways to engage the private sector and promote private sector growth in recipient countries.

She says a strong private sector drives higher growth, more jobs and will help reduce poverty.

Ms Bishop says the aid budget will still carry a heavy emphasis on health and disease prevention, and the empowerment of women and girls.

But she says if an aid project repeatedly fails to meet the benchmarks set for it, then funding for it will be cancelled.

"The government will introduce a rigorous system of performance benchmarks and mutual obligations tailored to each country's circumstances. In past, underperforming programs would sometimes continue to be funded even when it was clear they were not delivering, throwing more money at a failing program rather than admit failure. While the Australian Government will be held to account for the performance of our aid program, partner Governments are responsible for leading their own development processes. Sovereign governments have responsibilities to their citizens and should not use the provision of foreign aid to shirk those responsibilities."

The government has been widely criticised over its decision to cut $7.6 billion over five years from Australia's overseas aid budget, the single biggest savings measures in the federal budget.

And Opposition leader Bill Shorten says the aid program policy announcement is simply an attempt to distract people from its poorly-received budget.

"This is a government who uses a set of motherhood principles. They say we believe in benchmarks. People believe in benchmarks. The real issue is: is this a cut to our aid program? Were Australians told this before the last election? This is another government attempt to distract from the budgetlike . The aid program every other aspect of the budget we weren't told about before the election. This is a government who lie about the budget when they get up in the morning, they lie about it in Parliament, and they continue lying about it at dinner time. It's a rotten budget for all Australians."

The Greens' Deputy leader Adam Bandt says says he can't see how Australian aid services in the region can be improved, given the size of the cuts in the budget.

Mr Bandt says he's also concerned that the aid program will be used to further Australia's commercial interests.

He says aid for trade is inappropriate.

"The primary goal of aid should be to improve the health and wellbeing of the world's poor, including in our region. The idea that the aid budget is just an offshoot of Australia's commercial interests is wrong."

Ms Bishop says Australia has been in what she calls deep and broad consultations with recipient governments about Australia's new expectations.





Source World News Australia

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