The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) has welcomed statements by the Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Pat Conroy MP, indicating that a Labor government would boost the standing of Australia’s international development program within Australian foreign policy.
However, the peak body for Australian aid NGOs has urged the party to accelerate progress towards investing 0.5% of Australia’s Gross National Income (GNI) in international development by setting a clear timetable towards reaching the target.
Speaking at an international development election forum co-hosted by ACFID, the International Development Contractors Community and ANU’s Development Policy Centre held at the ANU on Monday, the Shadow Minister focused on the importance of placing poverty alleviation and human capital at the centre of Australia’s international development policy, emphasising that Australia’s official aid program should not be transactional in nature. “Our humanity should not end at our territorial borders,” said Mr Conroy.
The Shadow Minister reaffirmed the ALP’s position that reducing poverty, hunger and despair is in Australia’s national interest as they were some of the main causes of instability, conflict and violence. Mr Conroy also outlined the need for long-term development partnerships based on a commitment to a stable, prosperous and peaceful region, highlighting health, education and gender equality as central to Labor’s aid prospectus.
Responding to the speech, Marc Purcell, CEO of ACFID said:
“Labor’s restatement of poverty alleviation and investment in people as development’s core purpose, is very welcome.
“In an era of sharpened geopolitical competition, poverty reduction and human development are at risk of being bent out of shape or lost from development cooperation in favour of responding to the latest Chinese-backed infrastructure project.
“This wouldn’t be the right way for an international development program to operate. It will not deliver the long-term partnerships and development our neighbours are seeking.
“Health, education and gender equality are some of the foundational investments that societies need, so the Shadow Minister’s focus on these areas also sets the right tone for a Labor program.”
Conroy said that Labor would boost capacity and capability in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), and would ensure development skills are prioritised and valued.
He said under a Labor government, development roles within DFAT would be elevated to the same career status as some of the most highly-sought after diplomatic postings.
Labor is also pledging to expand funding to the DFAT-operated Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP) by $32 million, which would boost the capacity of Australian NGOs working on the ground in the region. Mr Conroy said that NGOs are important development partners to the Australian government and in supporting civil society overseas.
Mr Purcell commented:
“Rebuilding DFAT’s development management and leadership capability is a key priority, as is reshaping the size and structure of the aid budget, if we are to be the partner of choice in our region. Setting new and bold incentives for development roles and leadership – like those pledged on Monday – would be a positive step for what is needed.
“We would now like to see the aid budget restructured so that the current temporary and targeted measures are made permanent. We also would like to see Labor commit to a timeline for the acceleration of the amount of aid, so that we reach its stated target of 0.5 per cent of GNI sooner rather than later.”
Mr Conroy also announced that a Labor government would implement a DFAT-led review to examine new forms of development finance and policy options, beyond Official Development Assistance (ODA).
Mr Purcell commented:
“Labor has placed the Sustainable Development Goals as critical to their aid platform. However, there is a huge shortfall in financing required to support their achievement.
“Examining how we can crowd-in more private sector capital and boost the human development footprint of the aid program – in areas such as climate change mitigation and renewable energy transition – is a practical step to take if Labor were elected to Government.”
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