Two months after the Australian government announced the official integration of AusAID into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the next step now is to change all references of the former aid agency to DFAT in local legislation.
The Abbott administration is amending the country’s Civil Corps Bill, filed in 2010 under the former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and aimed at providing recovery assistance by civilian specialists to conflict- and disaster-ridden countries.
Following strong criticism over the lack of specifics regarding the re-integration process, this is one of the first details made available to the public. The new bill — called a “machinery of government” by Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer Steve Ciobo — deviates people’s understanding of the integration and takes away the human involvement in aid programs in general, according to Gai Brodtmann, a Labor MP for Canberra.
“What I’m saying is it’s a misleading phrase. Despite the fact that this bill just updates the references from AusAID to DFAT, what’s really happening is it takes away human involvement. Machinery of government changes are entirely about people,” she told Devex. “By abolishing AusAID and integrating it with DFAT, it has a significant effect on the people at large, their livelihoods, jobs and their job security.”
The integration process is expected to culminate by July 2014 — and what happens between now and mid-next year is anybody’s guess, said Brodtmann, adding that despite the latest update, the whole process is still not clear and specific.
“Will it affect the aid program of Australia? That’s the thing, we don’t know. We’re still working out who from AusAID [to retain]. Staff from AusAID [are now] uncertain as to what their future is.”
Up to 12,000 jobs are expected to be cut off once the Australian government completes trimming the fat in the bureaucracy, while specific plans for laid-off employees have not yet been revealed. The uncertainty and wariness goes beyond the domestic sphere, as AusAID’s international partners, countries and organizations are very concerned.
Sought for comment, DFAT said that while “the final staffing profile of the integrated department is not yet clear,” the department “will seek to manage job losses through natural attrition, voluntary redundancies, and redeployment.”
“As well as integration, reductions to the aid program, the increased efficiency dividend, the work of the Audit Commission and the reduction of 12,000 in public service numbers are expected to result in declines in staff numbers,” noted an official statement sent to Devex.
DFAT also clarified that the purpose of the amended bill is not to facilitate the integration process “rather limited to technical amendments” — the transfer the management of 500 government specialists in conflict or natural disasters in fragile states from AusAID to the foreign affairs ministry.
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