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Australia's international aid programme is one of the first overseas aid initiatives undertaken by western industrialised countries in the world. It focuses on the Asia-Pacific region. The largest recipient of aid has been Papua New Guinea. Over half of the world's 1.3 billion poor are in the Asia-Pacific and even in this region's more rapidly developing countries. In the early 1980s Australia contributed a total of $840 million worth of aid, which by 1997-1998 had increased to 1.429 billion. Australia's aid now totals $2.946 billion for 2006-2007, directed at 58 million people globally and in the region.
Aid programmes have been adapted to meet the different levels of development and needs of countries receiving this aid. Australia does this, through its cooperative approach with international partners at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, to reduce poverty and improve the standard of living of people in developing countries with sustainable development. It also responds to humanitarian crises, which account for 30%-40% of Australia's foreign aid, and endeavours to maintain its aid at the highest level consistent with its economic circumstances and capacity to assist. This chapter discusses Australia's aid programme in its handling of humanitarian issues such as education and training, health, gender and development, human rights, the environment, urbanisation, and natural disaster issues. It looks at the role taken in bilateral projects managed by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and by non-government organisations (NGOs) such as the Australian Red Cross and World Vision.

Reasons for development aid

Regional aid programmes aim at helping people in low income and developing countries raise their standard of living and to maximise the use of their resources in sustaining economic growth. People living in these countries do not have the same benefits most Australians do, such as health care, an education system, safe water, sanitation and unemployment and sickness benefits. Access to education is limited and there are higher unemployment rates, with relatively far lower wages for people who are employed. Aid is also highly tied up in humanitarian concerns, with the Australian belief in a 'fair go for all'. This also reflects an enlightened self-interest whereby assisting the improvement of living standards abroad increases the consumer income and consumption demands of people in regional countries. It is also, arguably, to promote economic and political stability, and expanding trade and investment opportunities.

Recipients of regional aid

Australia places a high foreign aid priority on Asia-Pacific island countries and territories that share historical, political, economic, and community links. Australia devotes substantial resources to developing and maintaining cooperative bilateral partnerships with these countries and territories, and to contributing to the work of Pacific regional organisations. This contribution is reflected in Australia's status as the leading regional donor with an intended total aid flow of $2.946 billion for the region in 2006-2007. It is also reflected in the support of moves for sustainable economic and social development through these bilateral and regional aid programmes. Such programmes are run and funded by the government agency of AusAID and by community-based NGOs including:

  • Adventist Development & Relief Agency (ADRA)
  • Anglican Board of Mission Australia (ABM)
  • Anglicans Cooperating in Overseas Relief and Development (AngliCORD)
  • Australian Lutheran World Service (ALWS)
  • Australian People for Health, Education and Development Abroad (APHEDA)
  • Australian Red Cross (ARC)
  • Australian Volunteers International (AVI)
  • Australians Caring for Refugees (AUSTCARE)
  • Baptist World Aid Australia
  • Burnet Institute
  • CARE Australia (CARE)
  • CARITAS Australia
  • Christian Blind Mission International (Australia) (CBMI)
  • ChildFund Australia
  • Credit Union Foundation Australia (CUFA)
  • Every Home for Christ Ltd (EHC)
  • International Needs Australia (INA)
  • International Women's Development Agency (IWDA)
  • Leprosy Mission (TLM)
  • Marie Stopes International Australia (MSIA)
  • National Council of Churches Australia (NCCA)
  • Opportunity International Australia (OIA)
  • Oxfam Australia (OAus)
  • PLAN International Australia (PLAN)
  • Save the Children Fund Australia (SCFA)
  • Sexual Health & Family Planning Australia Inc. (SH&FPA)
  • TEAR Australia (TEAR)
  • The Fred Hollows Foundation (FHF)
  • UNICEF Australia (UNICEF)
  • World Vision Australia (WVA)
  • WWF-Australia

Aid programmes are combined with a defence link with Pacific island states calling for more efficient and sustainable use of their maritime resources and enhanced regional security.

Australia's largest regional recipient of aid is Papua New Guinea, with other recipients in the poorest parts of East Asia. Australia also contributes to development needs in South Asian, African and Middle Eastern countries.

Amounts of Australian aid and its recipients in the Asia-Pacific in 2002-2003 included:

  • Maintenance of aid to Indonesia of $121.6 million to assist its reform and improve economic and financial management

  • Increased assistance to the Solomon Islands of $36.2 million to assist with economic, social and law and order problems arising from conflict in the country

  • Resumed bilateral aid to Fiji with total aid of roughly $19.7 million, to promote stability and strengthen basic services

  • Increased aid to Vanuatu of $22.1 million to support stability and strengthen its police and judicial sector

  • Support to Papua New Guinea in sustaining reform

  • Aid of $36 million to East Timor's nation building in the first years of its independence

  • Increased aid to Burma of $6.2 million for its basic health services in response to its humanitarian crisis

A major recent example of Australia's aid to its region is the Australia-Indonesia Partnership for Reconstruction and Development which was announced to support Indonesia's reconstruction and development efforts, both in and beyond areas affected by the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami of Boxing Day 2004. It was launched to address the Indian Ocean disaster and to assist broader efforts to raise living standards through sustainable development and economic growth. It is a long-term programme of sustained cooperation and is the single largest aid package in Australia's history, bringing its total aid commitment to Indonesia to almost $2 billion over five years. Aid proposals have also recently been made for a Tsunami Early Warning System monitoring the Eastern Indian Ocean, Timor Sea and Arafura Sea, to be implemented through the UN World Conference on Disaster Reduction hosted by Japan and at other meetings held in the region. The system will coordinate national and sub-regional tsunami early warning systems under UNESCO's Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission.

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Uses of bilateral and multilateral aid

Regional aid is distributed mainly in the form of bilateral and multilateral aid. Bilateral aid is given in a partnership between two governments, in this case, of Australia and a recipient country. Australia works closely with the recipient governments and communities to adapt its programmes to the development priorities of each country and to its own capacity to assist. Bilateral programmes range from small community-based projects to large regional development schemes, with priorities put on health, education, agriculture and rural development, infrastructure, governance, gender equality and the environment. These are reflected in aid for improving water supplies, disease eradication, reforestation, emergency medicine, food and shelter assistance (often distributed by non-government aid organisations), and education and training programmes, supplying teaching materials and the training of teachers, and providing scholarships for students to study in Australia. Aid is also given through distributing technological equipment or expert knowledge for agriculture and industry, and community-based projects in healthcare and constructing roads, bridges and schools.

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Multilateral aid differs from bilateral aid in being given by several countries and distributed through international organisations such as the United Nations, the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. Roughly 30% of Australia's aid budget is spent on multilateral global programmes which are used to fund emergency relief projects, refugee assistance, large-scale construction of railways, roads, and other development projects, as well as scientific research of disease and global warming issues.

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1. Australian's aid assistance is directed mostly on which part of the world?


Middle East

South Asia



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