Yes, it’s true: Australian aid diversion

The Refugee Action Collective used balloons during a protest against the detention of refugee children in Australia in July 2011. The Australian government will divert some of its 2012-2013 aid budget to support asylum seekers in the country. Photo by: Takver / CC BY-SA

The Australian government has confirmed shifting a portion of its 2012-2013 aid budget to support asylum seekers. It amounts to 375.1 million Australian dollars ($389 million).

The announcement comes after a bitter political fight between Australia’s ruling and opposition parties, with each accusing the other of wanting to divert foreign aid money to other, albeit perhaps somewhat related, causes.

In a statement Friday, Feb. 8, the government downplayed the impact of its decision, saying the money represents a small portion — about 7 percent — of Australia’s official development assistance during the 2012-2013 financial year (5.2 billion Australian dollars). It also reaffirmed that the move is consistent with reporting directives of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee and that it remains committed to bring the ODA to 0.5 percent of gross national income by 2016-2017.

“The government will minimise the impact of the reprioritisation by ensuring that, wherever possible, payments are delayed rather than cut,” the statement reads.

The aid budget diversion led to a minor outcry within the Australian NGO and political circles late last year, when a coalition of nongovernmental organizations and political figures launched a campaign pressing the government not to divert aid.

Meanwhile, as recently as this week, Foreign Minister Bob Carr slammed his political opposition for a leaked policy document that suggested diverting 800 million Australian dollars from the aid budget to build a tropical health medical center in north Queensland. Opposition leader Tony Abbott clarified Thursday, Feb. 7, that the document is but a draft discussion paper and that “a specific redirection of foreign aid in that way is not going to be our policy.”

Speaking to reporters in Canberra, Carr said the opposition’s proposal was “radically different” from the government’s use of the aid dollars to help asylum seekers in Australia.

After the government’s confirmation on reprioritizing aid, development groups are now pushing for more details. The government’s statement links to a report explaining estimated budget allocations for 2012-2013, including changes in planned spending per country.

“The further information we would like is … for the government to identify not just how much has been cut from each country program, but what activities in that country’s program [have] been cut,” Julia Newton-Howes, CEO of CARE Australia, told Radio Australia’s “Connect Asia.”

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    Eliza Villarino

    Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.