Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 03:54 | SYDNEY
Thursday 16 Aug 2018 | 03:54 | SYDNEY

Rethinking Australian aid

23 November 2009 14:12

John Hardy is a Lowy Institute intern. His master's thesis looked at functional approaches to state building in fragile nations.

Australia will spend $3.8bn on Official Development Assistance (ODA) in the 2009-2010 financial year and a big chunk of that will go to the Asia-Pacific. The big question is how best to spend it and on this front some rethinking might be needed.

The Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Reference Committee released a report last Thursday that included a look at the effectiveness of aid to the Pacific. Some of the recommendations of the Senate inquiry were that good governance be pursued across a whole-of-nation contribution to the region and that the gap between crisis assistance and the long term development agenda be closed.

The deficit between immediate recovery assistance and protracted development and governance aid was a key theme throughout the report. It argues that it is necessary for Australia to ‘bridge the gap’ between aid for short-term recovery and long-term development. But doing so may prove difficult because it will require a rethinking of what ODA is supposed to do in fragile states.

With a large proportion of Australian ODA in the Pacific directed toward governance programs, Australia will need to define what kind of governance it wants our aid policies to support. Other major aid donors provide examples of two different approaches to governance.

USAID proposes an institutional approach to governance assistance, using the creation of bureaucracies and legislatures as a benchmark of success. DFID proposes ‘responsive statebuilding’ as an alternative that focuses on improving the function of a fragile government to improve human security and human development conditions.

USAID's approach favours the creation of institutions that reflect those found in Western societies and are known to work well there. The logic is that the same institutions can work in developing countries and will improve human security and development conditions once consolidated. The DFID approach prefers to seek the improvement of human security and development conditions through local means and work toward desirable institutions later.

Australia currently leans toward the US model, but a shift toward the DFID approach may be needed to implement the Senate inquiry's recommendation to link immediate crisis assistance to long-term development aid.

Recent international experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan suggest that rapidly constructed democracies struggle to achieve legitimacy, protect civilians and deliver basic services such as health, food and water, sanitation and education. There is no argument to be made that institutional building is not necessary, or that effective autocracies are preferable to democracies in the long-term. Instead, the argument to be made is that the purpose of institution building is government function.

For example, the machinery of government program of the RAMSI intervention in the Solomon Islands is an example of a tactic misrepresented as a goal. Institutions and bureaucracies that form the machinery of government have little intrinsic value. They add value only through improving state function.

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