As an international development practitioner operating out of a country which is classed as one of the wealthiest in the world I have worked on an assumption that the rest of the population would understand the need for foreign aid and the reasons around why we invest in it. I’ve worked on this assumption for my entire career, and those who know me would understand that I rarely speak about what I do unless asked. For those of us in the field, we do what we do not out of a need to be notarised, acknowledged or accumulate any great deal of wealth. We put our heads down and quietly work towards the end goal of eradicating global poverty by strengthening under developed nations systems for self governance, accountability and greater equality for all.
Although hearing the unwarranted and uninformed conjecture of Jackie Lamby’s ‘first comes our own backyard’ sentiment has confirmed the level of misinformation that has translated into the public sphere around foreign aid and its reason for existence. Of course I could speak to you of the need to invest in the pursuit of a world in which no child goes hungry or dies as an infant of malnutrition; in which a woman no longer faces torture, rape, violence and discrimination because of her gender; or of the eradication of the need for engaging in back breaking, debilitatind and/or degrading labour for less than $1 a day. These images are not new they are pervasive in an unequal world. But what doesn’t reach the consciousness or understanding of most in the need to invest in foreign aid is it’s necessity for the security and vested interests of this country. An underdeveloped, volatile Pacific region is dangerous not only for Australia’s regional security but for its market trade opportunities as well.
The Indo-Pacific region is now one which is synonymous for its rapidly growing economies. The last few decades have seen a change in the way that the idea of foreign ‘aid’ is structured and configured. Gone are the days of welfare politics and direct giving outside of the onset of natural disasters. Donor governments and NGOs alike have understood that in order to better the situation for people in developing countries, the best method is to invest in more accountable and transparent structural governance systems in their own nations and boost opportunities for economic development. In other words, investing in systems to shift developing nations from mere aid recipients to economic partners with equitable societal functions is much more beneficial. Allowing under developed nations to take control and responsibility for their own futures has meant that foreign aid has become more targeted and sustainable.
It’s important to understand this basic principle when considering the need for foreign aid. It’s also crucial to keep things in context when considering all of this. Australia now ranks one of the lowest contributors of foreign aid worldwide. Of every $100 of our national income, only 22 cents is spent on foreign aid. That is 0.22%. So I ask you, is the foreign aid allocation really the most pervasive problem at hand when it comes to our national spending? I would beg to differ.