Opposition sets positive vision for Australian development cooperation as election looms

13 Mar, 2019

The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) has welcomed Labor’s vision and prospectus for international development cooperation following a wide-ranging speech by Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Penny Wong.

The Shadow Minister reaffirmed Labor’s commitment to increasing Official Development Assistance for every year the party is in office, as well as announcing plans for a $32m boost for accredited Australian development NGOs and a new $32m avoidable blindness initiative for the Pacific.

ACFID CEO, Marc Purcell, praised the design of an international development program as part of Labor’s vision for Australian foreign policy. Purcell said:

“If elected, Labor’s vision would trigger a wide-ranging recalibration of Australia’s international development program. From objectives to delivery, this speech signals that the program will be recast.

“Strengthening our neighbours' resilience to climate change; tackling the damaging effects of inequality with inclusive development; adjusting to economic growth in South East Asia and maintaining strong relationships; and investing in civil society are key to forging a peaceful and prosperous region.

“The transformative power of gender equality, inclusive development and defending human rights are the foundations for a development cooperation program with sustainable development at its heart. We welcome this approach.

“Marrying this agenda with the comprehensive recommendations of the recent Senate inquiry on the Sustainable Development Goals would be a natural next step.”

As part of its pre-budget submission, ACFID has maintained the need for a bipartisan commitment to rebuilding Australia’s development cooperation budget.

“This vision is backed with a firm commitment to increase spending. We are looking to the Coalition to match it. We need long-lasting political unity on increasing aid and development spending so we can better address the root causes of crises and challenges that undermine security and prosperity.”

The vital role for civil society – particularly in supporting healthy democracies and upholding human rights – was also highlighted in the Shadow Minister’s speech and was coupled with a spending commitment of $32m for accredited NGOs as part of the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP). 

“In 2016-17, the ANCP improved the lives of 12.8 million people worldwide. This funding would help grow that number.”

ACFID has argued that a strong civil society in developing and emerging middle-income countries is a key pillar of development, democracy, and a safeguard for stability, and should be better integrated in the design, management, and performance of the Australian development cooperation program.

“We welcome Labor’s spirt of engaging with civil society in a way that supports and strengthens its role, viewing NGOs not simply as delivery partners. Civil society has a crucial role to play in combatting the growth of authoritarianism and populism in developing countries, factors which pose a threat to international cooperation, and compounds poverty and inequality. 

“We think there is scope to better align and increase investment in civil society equal to the importance we place on democratic values and their projection in foreign policy. For example, we have recommended the establishment of an expenditure target for civil institutions in developing countries as part of Australian investment in development cooperation.”

ACFID has also welcomed a renewed focus on health to help build and maintain better health systems in the region. An investment of $32m in a Pacific Avoidable Blindness and Vision Loss Fund – in a region with some of the highest rates of avoidable blindness in the world – is a positive initiative in line with this goal.

“This will create a more inclusive development cooperation program. We must continue and extend this work to ensure that the most marginalised groups are empowered and we are leaving no-one behind. This is critical to the fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goals.”

ENDS

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