We are not even six months into 2017, but we have already seen much that is of concern in the direction of Australia’s aid program and policies. In the budget in May, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) announced a 22% cut to support for multilateral agencies – amounting to $445 million. Funding to multilateral agencies support world humanitarian and climate aid programs, United Nations programs and other global and regional agencies.

AID/WATCH does not believe that the quantity of aid is an appropriate measure of its effectiveness in alleviating poverty, as some aid projects – including through multilateral banks – end up benefitting the corporate sector and deepen poverty in the Global South. The Australian aid program is likely to continue to focus on national interest, and not human need under this budget. However, programs that do benefit the global poor, such as climate aid, environmental programs and genuine participatory development continue to be cut from the aid program or are non-existent. This budget puts effective programs of this kind run by multilateral agencies, further at risk.

We need your continued support and contribution so we can continue to monitor Australia’s aid program and be able to call out the Government when it looks as though it is following Trump’s policies on foreign aid, such as budget cuts to multilateral agencies.

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Since the conservative Government came to power in 2013, the Australian aid program has radically transformed. Under the Government’s ‘new aid paradigm’ aid no longer has a meaningful development mandate beyond promoting the private sector and growth. With your support last year, we contributed to the global ‘Reality of Aid’ report. Our chapter analysed Australia’s new aid paradigm and its dedicated focus on the private sector and market access as the panacea for all development woes. This focus of the aid program on the private sector continues and there is little to suggest the Australian Government will change direction. This report is available here

Earlier this year the Government called for submissions to its Foreign Policy White Paper. AID/WATCH outlined our concerns with the consultation process DFAT engaged in, and encouraged our supporters to send submissions. In our submission we questioned the direction of Australia’s foreign policy since the previous white paper in 2003, and now that the aid program falls under DFAT, the use of aid to achieve questionable foreign policy objectives. Of particular concern were the following seven issues:

(i) the backing of illegal US interventions;
(ii) promoting corporate interests;
(iii) undermining climate policy;
(iv) negating democracy and self-determination;
(v) promoting financial rule;
(vi) attacking refugees and asylum seekers;
(vii) discrediting overseas aid.

These issues impact directly on sustainable development outcomes and the ability of communities and recipient countries to determine their own development path. Our submission also provided a guide to help people make their own submissions.

As a result of your support and contributions to AID/WATCH, we were able to hold a forum in April with like-minded organisations for a panel discussion on ‘Australia’s foreign policy in the age of Trump’ and produce a factsheet. This was an opportunity for us and other grass-roots organisations to discover how we can work together and support these shared visions. We hope that this is just the start of a collaborative effort to bring about a strong alternative path for economic and social justice.

There is still a lot for us to do this year and we need your continued support and contribution to keep doing our work.

We remain concerned about the use and abuse of aid money. In February this year AID/WATCH wrote to the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop regarding aid money being used to support activities for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum to be held in Papua New Guinea in 2018. The Australian Government has allocated at least $100 million towards the APEC forum, but, because of the lack of transparency from the Government, it is unclear what this money is funding. There is controversy around the Paga Hill Estate development, with allegations that human rights abuses have occurred in the eviction of several thousand people from communities on that site. We are concerned that aid money funding APEC will deliver a windfall for the Paga Hill Development.

APEC forums have been for the benefit of the global elite and multinational corporations at the expense of the economies, communities and the environment of countries in the Global South. With your support AID/WATCH will continue to monitor the activities associated with APEC and demand accountability from the Australian Government about its use of aid money.

We thank you for your continued support to help us expose the impacts of the Australian aid program and to provide alternatives. We deeply appreciate your interest, time, donations and membership over the past year. As a small membership and activist based organisation, we rely on the generosity of our supporters, donors and members to keep doing our work and to plan for future work as Australia’s only watchdog and the aid program.

Thank you again for your support and we look forward to continuing our work with you beside us.

Yours sincerely,

James Goodman
Chair, AID/WATCH Committee of Management

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