Australians are a generous people. This generosity is reflected in the enduring contribution of Australia’s aid program to our partner countries, both in our neighbourhood in the Indo-Pacific and beyond. Australian aid has been there in times of conflict and natural disaster, and has assisted communities to improve health and educational outcomes, increase agricultural productivity, and access international markets.
However, aid is not a one-way street. Co-operation with our partner countries has supported Australia’s interests, including in trade, defence, health, and biosecurity. The aid program has also enhanced Australia’s standing in the international community and has been an important avenue through which Australia has exercised strategic influence, particularly in our region.
In recent years, changes to the aid program have included an increased focus in the Indo-Pacific region and initiatives in relation to trade and empowering women and girls. This inquiry was an opportunity to examine the effectiveness of these changes and to ensure that the aid program continues to improve outcomes for Australia’s partner countries and supports our interests.
While it is clear to the Committee that the aid program has a record of considerable achievement, the Committee has also identified a need to strengthen Australians’ confidence in the aid program. The Committee has therefore recommended measures to raise awareness about the benefits of Australia’s aid program, emphasising that the aid program is one part of a broader, mutually beneficial relationship between Australia and its partner countries.
At the same time, the Committee has recommended the Australian Government commit to a timeframe to increase Australia’s investment in aid over the coming decade. Australia has the capacity to do more, and stability and certainty in the aid budget will enable Australia’s aid program to build on its achievements through new investments to assist women and girls, people with a disability, and other poor and marginalised groups.
In calling for Australia to invest more in aid, the Committee is mindful that the aid program should be focused on investments that are effective and outcomes that are sustainable. The aid program has a responsibility to maximise the impact of every dollar. As such, the Committee has recommended that investments are more directly linked to the objective of reducing poverty and that local procurement is used wherever possible to avoid distorting local economies.
Taken together, the Committee’s recommendations are intended to ensure that the aid program delivers outcomes for Australia, its partner countries, and—most importantly—for those people who are most in need.
Given the scope of the aid program, there are other matters that the Committee was not able to consider in the time available in this first report. The Committee therefore encourages members of this Committee in the 46th Parliament to continue this inquiry and address these matters in due course.