Is Australian Government Avoiding Questions on Aid Programs?

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd fields questions from the Chilean media following his meeting with Chilean President Sebastian Pinera. A filmmaker alleges that Rudd's agency has refused to answer his query on how Australia spends its overseas aid. Photo by: Australian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

The Australian government appears relunctant to address questions about the country’s aid programs, particularly in Cambodia, even as it talks about increasing accountability and trasparency of aid operations, an Australian film producer notes.

In an opinion piece published in the Sydney Morning Herald, Jameks Ricketson narrates his failed attempts to get answers from the Australia foreign affairs ministry on how the country spends its aid dollars. Ricketson says he also requested the ministry to talk on camera about Australia’s programs in Cambodia, particularly a railway rehabilitation project that was linked to the death by drowning of two Cambodian children in May.

>>Controversy Continues Over Cambodian Railway Project Funded by AusAID, ADB

“In this age of transparency and accountability, government agencies go to extraordinary lengths to avoid answering questions, to make it as difficult as possible for documentary filmmakers and journalists to present a ”balanced” account,” Ricketson writes. “What is a documentary filmmaker to do when the Minister for Foreign Affairs refuses to answer questions about how taxpayer dollars are being spent on foreign aid?”

He adds: “I have written six letters to our new Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd - for whom an increase in foreign aid is a moral imperative and a priority. No response. I wrote to Prime Minister Julia Gillard to complain about Rudd’s silence. Suddenly Rudd’s office is on the phone. Two weeks later I received a written response, mostly diplomatic doublespeak and motherhood statements, though one question received a decisive answer: Would it be possible for Mr Rudd or some other representative of Foreign Affairs to speak to camera about aid to Cambodia? Answer: no.”

About the author

  • Ivy Mungcal

    As former senior staff writer, Ivy Mungcal contributed to several Devex publications. Her focus is on breaking news, and in particular on global aid reform and trends in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, and the Americas. Before joining Devex in 2009, Ivy produced specialized content for U.S. and U.K.-based business websites.