Analyzing Australia's aid trajectory

The Australian flag. Photo by: Giacomo / CC BY-NC

Interact with Australia’s new aid budget and how it aims to support the SDGs through our new Tableau interactive.

CANBERRA — Australia’s aid budget of 4.2 billion Australian dollars ($3.12 billion), released on May 8 in Canberra, received a thumbs down from the development sector.

The flat-lining figures of Australia's official development assistance were released at the same time New Zealand announced its 714.2 million New Zealand dollar ($498.1 million) boost to ODA over the next four years, with a focus on the Pacific, climate change, and humanitarian assistance. By comparison, Australia’s aid budget only raised by NZ$205 million — a mere 28 percent of New Zealand’s increase.

Following the release of the Australian budget, Micah Australia hosted a banquet outside Australia’s Parliament House to call on better support for foreign aid. Opposition leader Bill Shorten was in attendance to advocate for a better Australian aid program. And at the annual Aid Budget Breakfast on May 9, hosted by the Development Policy Centre, the center’s director Stephen Howe called it a “predictable” aid budget, which sees Australia going against a global trend of spending on aid reaching record highs.

“The budget should have been seen as an opportunity to invest in disability services. People with disability need clarity.”

— Jane Edge, CEO of CBM Australia 

But through the release of a larger aid budget summary, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is pushing for greater communication on how Australia is directing its ODA. For the second year running, the budget summary included information linking development priorities to the Sustainable Development Goals.

In our new interactive, Devex looks at how Australia’s working toward achieving the SDG — and where policy focus lies.

Australia’s priority goals

Goal 8: Decent work and economic growth

Goal eight has been the focal goal for Australia’s aid program in the past two budget reports. In 2018-19, AU$1.6 billion will be directed toward supporting this goal — 38 percent of the total aid budget.

For the 2018-19 financial year, three of Australia’s areas of investment will be contributing: effective governance; gender equality; and infrastructure, trade facilitation, and competitiveness.

Effective governance contributes the majority of Australia’s ODA support. Regionally, funds are being directed to the Pacific, followed by Southeast and East Asia, with the latter receiving a 35 percent boost to support in this space since the previous budget.

Goal 17: Partnerships for the goals

Effective governance and infrastructure, trade facilitation, and competitiveness are investment priorities for goal 17 to support partnerships for the SDGs.

Thanks to an AU$215 million boost supporting infrastructure, trade facilitation, and competitiveness, this sector sees a 15 percent rise in the budget. Regionally, the Pacific dominates funding with 42 percent of funding contributing to the SDG partnerships, while Southeast and East Asia have seen a 35 percent rise in funding for this goal since the 2017-18 budget.

Goal 11: Sustainable cities and communities

A boost of AU$288 million to this sector is seeing sustainable cities and communities as the third most important goal for Australia’s ODA.

Infrastructure, trade facilitation, and competitiveness are considered areas of spending leading to this goal — as well as the AU$691 million supporting programs to build resilience.

Again, the Pacific is the regional focus, but Southeast and East Asia are also receiving assistance exceeding AU$300 million, thanks to strong funding boosts. But support in South and West Asia both declined, despite growth in the region.

Goal 2: Zero hunger

Investment priorities supporting the achievement of goal two — the elimination of hunger — exceeded AU$1 billion in funding in 2018-19, with a 28 percent boost to investments. Infrastructure, trade facilitation, and competitiveness again are key investments for this goal, along with agriculture, fisheries, and water.

But here, the Pacific doesn’t dominate funding — it is second to Southeast and East Asia. And despite the famine recently seen in Africa, funding toward investments in Africa and the Middle East dropped 53 percent from the past budget.

Goal 1: No poverty

AU$1.1 billion supporting the elimination of global poverty comes from programs to support resilience, agriculture, fisheries, and water — as well as gender equality.

The goal has seen increased support in the Pacific; Southeast and East Asia; South and West Asia; Africa; and the Middle East. But global initiatives received an AU$28 million drop year-on-year.

Low priorities for Australian aid

The lowest SDG investments are for goals 12, 14, and 15. These goals are agricultural focused and receive investment from agriculture, fisheries, and water only.

By regions, Southeast and East Asia, followed by global programs, are the priorities of agricultural investment. While overall funding increased between years, it has declined in Africa and the Middle East.

Goal three — good health and well-being — follows as a low area of funding, despite a new investment in health through the Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security. A total of AU$436 million supporting health investments and AU$55 million supporting gender equality contribute to total funds toward goal three — with global programs taking up 46 percent of ODA.

Key takeaways from Australia's 2018 aid budget

The budget is an increase on the previous year’s forecast of AU$4.01 billion but still falls far short of what the development sector had urged. We analyzed the papers to determine the key winners, losers — and those in between.

An attempt at SDG reporting

While there will be more reporting on Australia’s SDGs as part of its first Voluntary National Review, to be delivered in July, it is expected that Australia’s reporting will be presented as a series of case studies — not as an outline of financial support and detailed programs.

DFAT’s budget report provides an opportunity to look at the SDGs differently — but it is not without its problems.

The Australian Council for International Development called the report a “pictorial representation of SDG logos against thematic priorities,” and criticized DFAT for not having any funding for new initiatives related to the SDGs. According to ACFID, “the budget fails to go beyond business as usual on this critical new agenda.”

But it certainly demonstrates the difficulty in reporting against goals that are cross-cutting, and it raises questions about how to effectively show — and provide value to — the ways countries are supporting their implementation.

For now, it demonstrates there is more work to be done.

Australia’s aid budget is missing a major mark

The analysis of the budget and its alignment with SDGs shows Australia is strongly focused on economic growth — as a way of both enhancing regional prosperity, as well as opportunities for Australia. The goal is linked with the directions identified in the Foreign Policy White Paper.

But for many NGOs, the linking of ODA to SDGs highlights that Australia may need a realignment in priorities for greater impact in developing countries.

With “no poverty” listed as goal one, many in the sector expect this to be a top priority. But with issues such as disability inclusion disappearing as a line item priority in Australia’s budget papers, there is a missed opportunity to provide greater funding and investment for people among the most disadvantaged in the world.

“There is concern for us,” Jane Edge, CEO of CBM Australia, told Devex. “The budget should have been seen as an opportunity to invest in disability services. People with disability need clarity. They are extremely disadvantaged, and disability is an area that needs a long-term view — particularly in budgeting.”

Likewise, Marie Stopes International Australia saw it as a missed opportunity to better support women — another important group to target in the fight against poverty.

“We know that increased prosperity and stability are only achievable by investing in women and girls,” MSIA told media.

“The Foreign Minister [Julie Bishop] has proudly stated her commitment to gender equality and after two years of steep decline, we are finally seeing an increase in spending on critical reproductive health services, like family planning. However, the latest cut puts progress at risk. The gains we have made in women and girls’ education, health and economic participation are fragile and need sustained support to continue,” the MSIA statement reads.

For NGOs, the work continues to ensure that Australia’s ODA will identify and support those who need assistance most.

Interact with Australia’s new aid budget and how it aims to support the SDGs through our new Tableau interactive.

About the author

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    Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Devex Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through news.com.au. Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.