By Frances Adamson, Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
The 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper makes clear that Australia’s investment in the stability and resilience of developing countries improves our own security and prosperity. Today, the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee (DAC) released its 2018 peer review of Australia’s aid program. This important report highlights our achievements to date and provides valuable recommendations for us to consider in strengthening the overall effectiveness of the program.
I am impressed by the thoroughness and rigour of the peer review process. The review team worked across the better part of 2017, visiting both Australia and Solomon Islands. In February this year, Australia appeared before the DAC at a formal peer review meeting to present on, and take questions about, all facets of our aid program.
There are few areas within public policy that would be subject to such robust, external, public assessments by international peers. I value the contestability that the peer review brings to Australia’s aid program, and importantly, the opportunities it provides for us to learn.
I was particularly pleased to see the peer review acknowledge Australia’s strong voice on the international stage, especially in support of small island developing states.
It also highlighted our work to bring together our aid, trade and foreign policy – and the way in which that has allowed us to work innovatively to advance development objectives.
In a world that is increasingly complex and interconnected, this is vital.
In this context, the peer review referred to Australia’s extensive efforts to promote trade liberalisation across our region and globally. This is an excellent example of how we have effectively used a combination of policy tools to achieve positive development results.
Similarly, our efforts in the Pacific to increase access to Australian labour markets (alongside efforts to reduce the cost of sending remittances) have the potential to generate benefits that could never be attained through aid alone.
We can already see the positive effect this has had in Tonga, the largest provider of seasonal workers in the last financial year. During that period, remittances totalled over $13 million—almost half of the value of Australia’s annual aid to Tonga.
The peer review was critical of the size of Australia’s aid budget. This is to be expected, given the DAC target for donor countries’ ODA to reach 0.7 per cent of GNI. The Australian Government has been clear that it does not support a prescriptive, time-bound target of aid as a percentage of GNI.
DFAT constantly seeks to maximise the effectiveness of Australia’s aid program, and ensure that it provides the government, and taxpayers, with good value for money.
We will continue our efforts to deliver an aid program that supports growth in our partner countries, addresses poverty and works to promote participation in the economy and society by the most disadvantaged and vulnerable. These include women and children and people living with disabilities.
To do this, we need people with the right skills and experience planning, managing and implementing the aid program.
The peer review raised concerns about a perceived drop in development capability in DFAT. I have discussed this perception on several occasions, both internally with staff and at recent appearances before the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee at Senate Estimates hearings.
Our people are our greatest asset. I was pleased to launch DFAT’s new Workforce Strategy earlier this year, which sets out the ways in which we will support the development of the department’s future workforce capability and manage workforce risks. Investing to build and maintain our development capability is integral to the Strategy.
In the weeks ahead, we will consider all the recommendations coming out of the review. This is part of Australia’s commitment to the principles of peer review learnings.
Australia can be proud of its overseas aid program, and I am committed to making it even better.
Frances Adamson commenced as Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs on 25 August 2016. Before this Ms Adamson was International Adviser to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull from November 2015. From 2011 to 2015 Ms Adamson was Australia’s Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China.