The Australian government has today released its long-awaited Defence Strategic Review. In acknowledging the document, the Australian international development sector wants to remind stakeholders that the ultimate goal of Australia’s Defence program must remain the pursuit of peace.
The review recognises Australia’s focus on peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance abroad, however contains no recommendations on Defence’s role in international humanitarian assistance.
The Government has recently invested enormously in hardware, which it acknowledges is for the main purpose of deterrence. The Australian Council For International Development (ACFID) reiterates the message that key to deterrence are diplomacy and development.
“Development is universally considered as important a tool of statecraft as diplomacy and defence,” said ACFID CEO, Marc Purcell.
“Prevention is better than cure, and we want to see Australia stepping up in its commitments here. We know there’s $368 billion set aside for submarines, but where is our investment in peacebuilding?” said Mr Purcell.
“The review’s failure to include provisions or recommendations around Defence’s role in international humanitarian assistance is of concern, given the Government’s oft-stated insistence that its different departments must cooperate.”
The sector has long called for a whole-of-government strategy for Australia’s role in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, one that particularly brings together Defence and DFAT.
However, this review’s omission of any mention of humanitarian relief means that there is unlikely to be coordinated cooperation between the departments. The review includes references to climate change and natural disasters, as well as Defence’s role domestically, however its international humanitarian role appears sidelined.
A whole of government coordinated strategy would ensure that our international humanitarian assistance is effective and adheres to humanitarian principles. Humanitarian responses should always be civilian-led.
Peace cannot be achieved solely through deterrence, but rather, via long-term investments in working with partner governments and communities through inclusive and locally-led development that addresses areas of need and social contexts.
It is also worthwhile reiterating the need to invest in peace on the eve of ANZAC Day, which is Australia’s most potent and enduring reminder of the catastrophic cost of conflict.
Australia’s aid budget at a glance
Australia’s aid budget – known as ODA, or Overseas Development Assistance, is currently $4.651 billion per year.
ODA last October received a boost of $1.4 billion over four years, in the Albanese Government’s maiden Budget.
However this has done little to arrest the decline. The international measure is of ODA as a percentage of Gross National Income (GNI), with the OECD average sitting at 0.36 percent. In its pre-election platform, Labor promised it would reach 0.5 percent.
Currently Australia’s ODA/GNI is at 0.2 percent, and falling.
In figures announced earlier this month, Australia fell six places and now sits at 27th on the list of OECD DAC donor countries, below Lithuania, Slovenia and the United Kingdom.
This comes as Australians have indicated they support foreign aid. In figures from a recent YouGov poll, 60 percent of Australians said they support foreign aid at current or greater levels, up three percentage points from 2021.
“In real terms, this has put Australia right down the bottom of the ladder. If aid was the AFL, we’d be Hawthorn,” said Mr Purcell.
Defence decision makers concur
Some selected quotes that support ACFID’s focus on peace:
Pat Conroy – “When I talk to the leaders of the Department of Defence, they’re evangelical that hard power – acquiring nuclear submarines – has to be complemented with equal efforts on soft power, investing in diplomacy, investing in development.”
Richard Marles – “We should never forget that Australia’s frontline is diplomacy. Our primary effort is to use our diplomacy to reduce tensions and create pathways for peace.”
CDF General Angus Campbell – “If we find ourselves in a setting in which more and more of national wealth is expended more narrowly in the military space, that sense of statecraft is weakened, and it’s statecraft that builds peace and prosperity.”
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