Garth Luke is Lead, ODA and Emerging Issues at World Vision Australia.
I agree with Hugh White when he says that we need to be clear about what aid is trying to achieve if we are to spend the aid budget most effectively.
Most Australians believe that its purpose should be to help poor people in countries with low incomes. AusAID has commissioned four public opinion surveys since 1998 and all have shown that the greatest support is for things like saving people's lives, improving education, helping people in emergencies and reducing poverty. In the most recent survey in 2009, 63% disagreed with the statement: 'I agree with giving aid if we get something back in return. e.g. trade relationships'.
Poverty reduction is also the agreed purpose of aid in international agreements and almost all of the Australian Government's statements about the aid program.
Unfortunately many of the people who influence discussion about aid in Australia and many of those making decisions about the aid program do not have such purity of purpose. They want to also use aid to support the Australian economy or increase our military security, prestige or influence. Some even want to take from the aid program to boost defence or diplomats or reduce our very small deficit.
Aid is just 1.4% of the Commonwealth Budget and will grow to only 2% of the budget when we reach 0.5% of GNI.
Despite major reductions in poverty and its worst aspects (for example a 42% drop in global child deaths since 1990), there are still huge needs in the world that our aid can help meet – 7 million people needing AIDS treatment, 170 million children stunted by malnutrition, millions of children still dying for lack of a vaccine or a toilet, 60 million children who can't go to primary school.
The research is clear that aid has been effective in helping solve these problems – but it is not at all clear that it boosts economic growth or increases our security.
Can't we just focus this tiny part of the budget on the thing it is good at (helping the poor) and leave the diplomatic, military, trade and other self-interests to other areas of government?