Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 14:25 | SYDNEY
Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 14:25 | SYDNEY

The policy and people of aid


Graeme Dobell

29 November 2010 14:37

The people Kevin Rudd has picked to do his aid review say something about his view of the world. The choices offer early hints about what the Foreign Minister wants to hear about the future of AusAID.

The old jest is that no government should appoint an inquiry without knowing exactly the answer it wants. Even for Canberra, this is just a tad cynical (and heaven knows, you can seldom be too jaundiced about the operations of the national capital). Inquiries are allowed to dig a bit, to offer up some fresh thoughts and even a small surprise or two. But they must never astonish with their conclusions, and definitely never stray too far from the paddock allotted them in the questions posed by the Minister.

These truths mean that the people chosen to inquire matter as much as the terms of reference. The time allowed is also crucial and, as previously noted, this inquiry is short and sharp.

The inquiry looks to have a foreign affairs, as opposed to aid, bias. It is headed by Sandy Hollway (16 years in DFAT) and also has another DFAT alumni in Bill Farmer. Hollway and Farmer are quality former public servants. Note that the previous two big aid inquiries (Simons and Jackson) were headed by businessmen, not bureaucrats. Perhaps Rudd's neo-liberal animosity makes him more comfortable with bureaucrats rather than business types when examining the entrails of his own department.

The big reality at the base of the inquiry is the huge growth in Australian aid: already doubling to beyond $4 billion and set to double again by 2015. $8 to $9 billion annually is big bickies. Eventually, such a stash of cash will be espied by voters. So far, much of the discussion has been confined to Canberra and insiders of the aid industry. But the questions about effectiveness and non-government organisations in the inquiry's terms of reference are nods towards the taxpayers and voters who are the ultimate judges.

The golden aid consensus between Labor and the Coalition means there has not been much argy bargy about the growth of the cash mountain. Aid is being treated as a protected species. The purpose of the inquiry is to bolster the chances of aid hanging on to that status, to entrench the Aid Consensus and put the cash to good use. Some thought needs to be given to the future political positioning of aid as a richly fed part of the federal fauna.

So it was that the Foreign Minister reached for an ex-politician in setting up the inquiry. His choice was another example of the Rudd penchant for giving lollies to Liberals, not Laborites. The sole pollie on the panel is the former Liberal Senator for the ACT and Senate President, Margaret Reid. That Reid wasn't paired with an equally good Labor person is one more example of the problems Rudd has with his own tribe. Or maybe he just doesn't like lots of his own tribe. The Labor tribe is muttering that Rudd's understanding of bipartisanship seems to be that you give stuff to the Liberals.

One judgement that has taken hold in Canberra is that actually having worked with Rudd can be a distinct career disadvantage. It's a view that is being quietly workshopped inside DFAT. As far as is known, Margaret Reid has never had an argument with Rudd in her life. That made her an easy pick.

Who was the logical Labor pick to have given the inquiry two politicians, not one' Many of Labor's former great and good come easily to mind. One of the first is Bob Sercombe (MHR 1996-2007), whose big front bench gig was as Shadow Minister for Overseas Aid and Pacific Islands Affairs (2004-2006). Too well qualified, almost. As the Aid and Islands shadow, Sercombe served with Rudd when he was shadow Foreign Minister. And unlike Margaret Reid, Sercombe most definitely did have arguments with The Kevin.

Photo courtesy of AusAID.