Kevin Rudd is back in power in Australia, with foreign aid high on the agenda.
Rudd on Monday appointed MP and former United Nations lawyer Melissa Parke as new minister for international development, the first time this portfolio is elevated to ministry level since Gordon Bilney in Paul Keating’s last Labor government (1991-1996).
“Honored to have been chosen to be minister for international development under @KRuddMP - M.,” Parke said on her official Twitter account @MelissaParkeMP after the appointment. She later tweeted a picture of her meeting with AusAID director general Peter Baxter.
Rudd’s move was hailed by NGOs such as Oxfam, which said the allocation of a cabinet position for international development was long overdue and reflects “importance of Australia’s growing investment in overseas aid.”
Parke, a “committed humanitarian” with great knowledge of global development issues, will “oversee the growth in Australia’s aid program” and “ensure every dollar spent has the maximum impact on reducing poverty,” Oxfam Australia CEO Helen Szoke noted in a statement.World Vision Australia chief Tim Costello agreed and commented that the new role for international development in the government “will serve to strengthen the effectiveness of the aid program by providing dedicated ministerial oversight. Costello added in a statement that as minister and although Parke will not be part of the cabinet, she “will facilitate greater collaboration between the aid and development sector and the government to address poverty in the developing world” and “strengthen existing efforts on making the Australian aid program even more effective.”
Despite this enthusiasm, others voices within the aid community were concerned about how Parke’s appointment will play out in practice.
Ashley Betteridge, research officer at Australian National University Development Policy Center, acknowledged in a blog that the move is “significant” but wondered how Parke will fare when she has to deal with foreign minister Bob Carr, “widely reported not to have taken an active interest in aid policy.” Betteridge also noted that the new minister for international development opposed in 2011 for Australia to temporarily cut foreign aid in order to support the emergency response to the Queensland floods, and rejected diverting official development assistance funds to pay for domestic asylum seeker costs.
Parke, 46, started out as a community lawyer in Western Australia before joining 1999 the U.N. system, where she served as legal advisor in Kosovo and for UNRWA and the Office of the Secretary General. She also investigated the 2005 murder of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and helped establish the world body’s Ethics Office before returning to Australia to run for MP in 2007.
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