Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 21:11 | SYDNEY
Tuesday 17 Jul 2018 | 21:11 | SYDNEY

From quasi to super Aid Minister


Graeme Dobell

23 September 2010 10:17

Australia has mislaid its quasi Minister for Foreign Aid. Suddenly we have a super Minister for Aid. The reason is Kevin — Rudd is going to find time in his schedule to do all the hands-on foreign aid issues as well as everything else.

The Foreign Minister has ultimate responsibility for overseas development. But for two decades, the department has had a quasi or actual Minister for Aid to do the detail. In the Keating years, John Kerin was the Minister for Trade and Overseas Development from 1991 to 1993, and from 1993 to 1996, Gordon Bilney served as the Minister for Development Cooperation and Pacific Island Affairs.

When Alexander Downer became Foreign Minister in 1996, he killed off the Bilney Aid and Island job. Downer took over the South Pacific (and claimed he spent up to 25 per cent of his time on the Islands) and gave the day-to-day care of development assistance to the quasi Minister, the Parliamentary Secretary. The quasi Minister operated throughout the Howard Government and the system was expanded when Labor took over in 2007.

Initially, Labor had both a Parliamentary Secretary for Aid and a Parliamentary Secretary for the Pacific. When Duncan Kerr stepped down in October, 2008, the Island post was left vacant, reflecting the Pacific absent-mindedness that started to afflict the Prime Minister.

Suddenly, though, Australia no longer needs a quasi Aid Minister. And we have gone from not needing to bother with the Pacific Islands job to making it the sole task of the new Parliamentary Secretary.

Consider a cynical explanation for the quick renaming or redefining of tasks which produced a Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Islands Affairs but, for the first time in decades, no actual or quasi Aid Minister.

Kevin Rudd cares about the South Pacific, he just doesn’t want to have to think about it too much. That is why the Pacific Islands Parliamentary Secretary job was allowed to wither when Rudd was Prime Minister, even though he held the chair of the Pacific Islands Forum.

Now as Foreign Minister, Rudd kills off the quasi Aid Minister and – voila! – the Pacific Islands job is reborn. In the same moment, the super Aid Minister is born. Step forward K Rudd. Not only does Rudd want to think about aid, he wants to run it. And being Kevin, run it hard: Millennium Development Goals, here we come. Thus, Kevin Rudd arrives in Pakistan to declare: 'I am the Australian government - when it comes to AusAid.'

As a statement of formal fact, this has always been the case. But Rudd as the super Minister doesn't see the need for a quasi Minister to help him carry the load. Billions to spend – all those countries to visit.

Photo by Flickr user atomicShed, used under a Creative Commons license.