Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 00:43 | SYDNEY
Thursday 26 Nov 2020 | 00:43 | SYDNEY

Email of the day: Our aid program needs to be realistic


Fergus Hanson


29 February 2008 09:26

Peter McCawley writes in with this response to the aid debate that started here yesterday:

Guest bloggers Stephanie Lusby and Kate Wheen call on Australians to agree that children and women in Papua New Guinea and East Timor have 'the same right to human security, political freedoms, primary health care and education as the members of our own families'.  They are also critical of the way that Australian aid is currently delivered.

All of this sounds fine enough but the problem is that it doesn't seem to be grounded in realism.  And it's hard to see how Australia can have a good aid program if policy isn't realistic.

For one thing, the rights-based approach to aid which underpins Stephanie Lusby and Kate Wheen's rallying words is not very useful in the aid game.  The goals mentioned — providing people in nearby developing countries with the same access to social goods as currently exist in Australia — are irrelevant for any discussion of aid policy today.  They are out of this world.  Global aid flows are far too small to provide such resources.  Developing countries themselves are far too poor to be able to supply such services to their peoples.  It would be better to face the unpleasant fact of an extreme shortage of resources and aim for more achievable goals.

Second, it is all very well to be critical about the way that Australian aid is currently delivered but it would be helpful to know what Stephanie Lusby and Kate Wheen suggest.  Here, too, some realism would help.  There are many ways of delivering international aid, both through bilateral and multilateral channels.  All methods of delivery have pros and cons.  The debate needs to move away from grand but vague generalisations about the 'supremely elastic structures of the seven or eight corporations who swallow up most major contracts' to a discussion of what, exactly, might be the best way of delivering aid in any given (often difficult) situation.