WHO WE ARE
Since 1992, AID/WATCH has been Australia’s only independent watchdog on aid.
We have campaigned against the use of Australia’s aid budget by exposing dubious aid programs that open up low-to-mid income countries to corporate interests, with a focus on the Asia Pacific region.
We brought a new style to campaigning by collaborating with Indigenous Peoples, frontline communities and social movements in advocating for aid programs to protect their environments, lives and livelihoods and determine their own futures.
Over the years, AID/WATCH has successfully challenged government agencies, International Financial Institutions (IFIs) and corporations against their use of foreign policy mechanisms and development aggression in undermining local communities.
We continue to collaborate with movements and frontline communities in mutual solidarity for equality, liberation and global justice, to lay the foundations for a radically different and better future for all.
WHAT WE DO
AID, TRADE &
Aid/Watch staff are currently part-time. They work hard and do a lot with very little. Historically Aid/Watch staff are experienced campaigners and researchers whose work is fundamentally guided by the principles of Aid/Watch and centred in decolonisation, equality and global justice.
Natalie Lowrey | Campaign Coordinator
Natalie has over 18-years working as a grassroots activist, organiser, lobbyist and networker in environmental, social and economic justice issues with a strong focus on the rights of local communities and Indigenous Peoples who are resisting against development aggressions on their lands and lives. She has worked with communities in Australia, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, Chile, Pakistan, US and Canada. Natalie has held campaigner and communications positions with Friends of the Earth International, Mineral Policy Institute, Conservation Council of Western Australia and Union Aid Abroad-APHEDA.
Mara Bonacci | Research Coordinator
Mara is an environmental scientist and campaigner with over 20 years experience working for environmental and social justice on a range of issues including forests, nuclear, coal and refugees. She has a strong commitment to working at the grassroots level to help empower communities affected by inappropriate developments to fight for justice. She has held positions at Friends of the Earth, Conservation Council of SA and some environmental consultancies.
COMMITTEE OF MANAGEMENT
Aid/Watch Committee of Management (COM) operates to the principles of collectivity. The COM consists of the three office bearers and is made up of both staff and committee members.
Associate Professor James Goodman | Chair
James is an Associate Professor at UTS Social and Political Sciences. James conducts research into social change and global politics, with a special focus on global justice and climate justice. He draws from a disciplinary background in political sociology, international relations, political economy and political geography, and he has published more than eight books. He is an Associate Professor in the Social and Political Change Group of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Technology, Sydney, where he has been based since 1996. In 2007, he was one of the three co-founders of the Research Centre in Cosmopolitan Civil Societies, at UTS, which has grown to play a major role in bridging social science and civil society research agendas.
David McGill | Treasurer
David is a Certified Practising Accountant and lawyer. He has been an active member of various environmental and social justice groups including Friends of the Earth and the Community and Public Sector Union.
Jemma Bailey | Public Officer
Jemma has twenty years experience in the community and government sectors as a lawyer, policy advisor and advocate for social justice. She has worked in legal and policy roles with Mallesons King Wood, the National Children’s and Youth Law Centre and the Public Interest Advocacy Centre. Jemma coordinated the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network, was Chair of Aid/Watch, consulted to Oxfam and has worked in community development in Peru and Burma. Most recently, she worked as a senior strategist and communications advisor for an Australian Senator, playing a lead role in the aid and development portfolio. Jemma has an economics and law degree with First Class Honors from Sydney University.
Ken Davis | Committee of Management
Ken is deputy Executive Officer of Union Aid Abroad – APHEDA in Sydney, and has worked in international development programs with that organisation for 25 years. He has worked extensively in Palestine, Lebanon, South Africa, Cambodia, Pakistan, and Aceh, Indonesia.
Lee Rhiannon | Committee of Management
For over five decades, Lee Rhiannon has been well known for her environmental and social justice activism. Her first political involvement was part of the movement opposed to the Vietnam War. In the 1970s she studied and tutored at the University of New South Wales, majoring in zoology and botany with honours in botany. She was a research assistant and tutor at Macquarie University in ecology. In the 1980s she worked as a freelance journalist and was active in the peace, environmental, workers’ rights and women’s movements. Her work has included – a member of the NSW government’s Women’s Advisory Council, General Secretary of the Union of Australian Women, a Founding Director of AID/WATCH and convenor of Gun Control Australia. Lee has been arrested twice – in the 1970s at an anti-apartheid protest and in the 2000s at a protest to protect urban bushland.
Lee Rhiannon was a Greens NSW state MP and Senator for nearly 18 years. She resigned from federal parliament in 2018. She continues to be involved with a range of political campaigns and the Greens. She works closely with various communities struggling for self-determination, peace and justice in their home country.
Lee Tan | Committee of Management
Lee is a statistician and a social researcher with decades of health, environmental and social justice campaigning experiences, ranging from grassroot activism to policy advocacy at the multilateral institutional level. She worked as the Asia-Pacific Campaign Coordinator for over a decade advocating on issues such as sustainable livelihoods, deforestation, mining and climate change. Lee has forged and established extensive links with Indigenous communities, local organizations and national organisations in the Region.
Twenty eight years ago in 1992, Aid/Watch was formed in a living room in Sydney by a handful of activists concerned that Australia’s overseas aid money was making life harder for the very people it was supposed to assist.
Dismissed by the Keating government as “two women and a lap top”, Aid/Watch grew to a band of formidable campaigners confronting dubious aid programs that had more to do with opening up low income countries to corporate interests. Aid/Watch brought a whole new style to campaigning with local communities and advocated for aid programs to protect the local environment.
For over 28 years we have focused on demanding transparency and accountability for Australia’s foreign aid and trade. Today, we still work to confront aid programs that have more to do with exposing developing countries to corporate interests than addressing the root causes of poverty and inequality.
However, in 2017, AidWatch has not only focused on a counterpoint to the Australian ‘aid paradigm’ – that favours national interest and private finance over the need for real aid – we are going beyond the ‘aid lens’ to build movements that are grounded in global justice.
Aid/Watch is determined to keep up the fight for justice in the overseas aid sector and against development aggressions in all forms, as we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
We believe it is vital for concerned Australians to advocate for a decolonisation and global justice to lay the foundations for a radically different and better future for all.
READ MORE BY JOHN SEED, RAINFOREST INFORMATION CENTRE
Over the years Aid/Watch has run a number of successful campaigns, engendering positive reforms in Australia’s aid industry and promoting transparency, accountability and effectiveness. Aid programs geared to ending poverty, promoting human rights, protecting local environments and empowering communities have been promoted.
Unlike other aid organisations, Aid/Watch has chosen to advocate and campaign on Australia’s aid program and to not accept money to deliver aid projects. That decision was taken to help strengthen the independence of Aid/Watch’s message.
The success of our advocacy work has rattled a few cages over the years with the Howard government attempting to shut our organisation down. In 2006 the ATO revoked Aid/Watch’s charitable tax status for engaging in advocacy work, a move that removed free speech and attempted to gag any NGO from criticising government policy. Although it took four years and a high court battle, this order was eventually lifted.
Campaign successes have included
Income Restoration Project (IRP)
In response to AID/WATCH and other critiques, the Australian Government announced an Income Restoration Project (IRP). Whilst AID/WATCH criticized the lack of compensation, the IRP was a good first step. AID/WATCH is currently in arbitration with AusAID through the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner relating to a Freedom of Information request to release the social monitoring reports. In 2014, the Asia Development Bank’s internal watchdog admitted that the process had been botched and made recommendations for how to amend past errors. We are urging the Australian Government to take responsibility for this.
Effective climate aid: REDD discontinued
AID/WATCH has long advocated against the ‘Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation’ (REDD) schemes funded by AusAID in Indonesia and PNG. We have released publications, lobbied, and encouraged the public to write letters to parliamentarians. REDD offset schemes are ineffective in reducing carbon emissions, undermine the livelihood of subsistence farmers and displace forest-dwelling indigenous peoples. In June 2013, AusAID announced that the $47 million failed project would be discontinued.
Land is Life: protecting cultural heritage and biodiversity in Vanuatu
AID/WATCH has a long history of working with civil society organisations in the Pacific to promote sustainable development. In the past few years, we have worked with local partners in places like Vanuatu to defend customary land, which is a crucial element of the cultural and economic systems in the region. As a result of the combined efforts of AID/WATCH and tenacious advocates in Vanuatu, AusAID dismantled its Mama Graon program in 2013, and replaced this with the Vanuatu Land Program, which is in line with current priorities of the Vanuatu Minister of Lands. Mama Graon was a surreptitious attempt to privatise land in Vanuatu, contrary to the country’s constitution. This privatisation was exposing local people to profiteering and exploitation by foreign investors from Australia, New Zealand and other wealthy countries. Its discontinuation will strengthen sovereignty and autonomy for the people of Vanuatu and provide a possibility for them to determine their own course to better development outcomes.
The militarisation of aid in Afghanistan
In 2012, AID/WATCH exposed the increasing spending of Australia’s aid budget on military activity in Afghanistan. Almost $200 million of aid money was spent on building military infrastructure such as checkpoints. This is not a proper use of aid money according to OECD guidelines, and is likely to cause harm to local communities, rather than promoting development. AID/WATCH produced research to support its critique of AusAID’s military program, engaged extensively with the media on this issue and testified at a Senate inquiry into the matter in December 2012. This is part of an on-going campaign by AID/WATCH to monitor how Australian aid money is spent and to promote expenditures that promote good development outcomes for intended beneficiaries.
Cambodia Railways Project
In cooperation with partners in Cambodia, AID/WATCH exposed an AusAID program that had led to the displacement of hundreds of people and prompted the near shut-down of civil society. ‘Off the Rails: AusAID and the Troubled Cambodian Railways Project’ exposed Australian companies benefitting from generous public subsidies to rehabilitate the railway whilst many of those in desperate need of aid dollars missed out.
Aid/Watch case a win for charities
In 2006 Aid/Watch had its charitable status revoked in 2006 by the ATO after criticising Federal Government overseas aid policy. The ATO’s 2006 decision sent shockwaves through the charitable sector and had a chilling effect on the willingness of the charitable sector to speak out.
The revoking of Aid/Watch’s DGR status became a four year legal battle which resulted in the High Court agreeing with many of Aid/Watch’s arguments – that engaging in political debate is an essential part of advocacy work and very much in the public interest.
The decision (Aid/Watch incorporate v Commissioner of Taxation 2010), has had enormous implications not just for Aid/Watch but for any charity that seeks to influence government policy in the public interest. In effect the decision overturned 90+ years of Australian law defining the role of charities. It brought the law up to date with how charities work in the 21st century.
Aid/Watch, as a small grassroots organisation, was only able to take the case on with the support of the charitable sector, members of the public and lawyers who were initially prepared to run the case pro-bono. The ATO has agreed that the case qualifies for test case funding. Maurice Blackburn lawyers, along with David Williams SC, Sheila Kaur-Bains and Rashelle Seiden represented Aid/Watch at the AAT, Federal and High Courts.
Aid package for tsunami
AID/WATCH Revealed the real nature of the Federal Government’s aid package to Tsunami affected Aceh. Our report revealing the shortcomings and misrepresentation of the aid package resonated throughout the region. The corruption in the aid delivery as uncovered by AID/WATCH was quickly rectified by NGO’s and Government officials. In addition to this AID/WATCH was able to release a Tsunami Appeal Donation Guide within days of the disaster. The guide, distributed online, assisted the Australian public to make educated decisions about donating to aid agencies.
Boomerang Aid Campaign
In 2006 AID/WATCH’s Boomerang aid campaign paid off. The Federal Government’s commitment to the full untying of Aid has been long fought for. The untying of aid means that decisions about how to most appropriately spend aid money is in the hands of the recipient country and not Australia. The Government also announced a revision of the National Interest in Australian Aid giving. AID/WATCH will continue the campaign to expose the commercial and national interests in Australia’s aid program in their new campaign Real Aid Now!
International Financial Institutions
Raising public awareness and demanding accountability from International Financial Institutions (IFI’s) has resulted in a shift in the way IFI’s do business. By participating in and leading international NGO networks, advocacy and research projects AID/WATCH has been the Australian link in the global movement. Changes to the accountability and safeguard standards of development banks and the failure of the World Trade Organisation Doha negotiations are attributed to this work.
Aid funded land reform in PNG
Monitoring Australian aid in Papua New Guinea (Australia’s largest aid recipient) has built strong partnerships and is having an effect. The registration of customary land has been taken off the table, oil palm developments are being resisted and structural adjustment policies have been rejected. In 2004 AID/WATCH began their Land is Life campaign. The national speaking tour, linking of Australian Indigenous communities with PNG communities, research papers & photo exhibition have created awareness in Australia and deepened relationships between Australian & PNG communities.
Eyes on EFIC Campaign
For environmental guidelines in Australia’s export credit agency EFIC (Export Finance and Insurance Corporation) was led by AID/WATCH. By bringing together other NGO’s on this issue, producing research, campaigning & negotiation pressure was put on EFIC. They adopted the guidelines AID/WATCH fought for. It meant that large scale development projects such as dams, roads & mines funded by EFIC had to comply with the new standards.
PARTNERS & NETWORKS
AID/WATCH is part of a global movement to eradicate injustice and inequality by working in solidarity with others who are also working to change systems that create poverty and environmental destruction.
We are active members of other organisations and movements both in Australia and abroad to share information and support each other’s work.
AID/WATCH is an active member of:
- Reality of Aid
- Asia Pacific Research Network
- Asia Pacific Gathering on Human Rights & Extractives
- Blockade IMARC: Beyond Mining Alliance
- Yes to Life No to Mining (global network)
- Mining & Energy Transition network
- Melanesian Indigenous Land Defence Alliance (MILDA)
We support and encourage our members to follow:
- Save the Sepik
- Paga Hill Community
- Act Now! PNG
- Bismarck Ramu Group (BRG)
- Pacific Network on Globalisation (PANG)
- Pacific Island Association of Non-Government Organisations (PIANGO)
- Kalikasan Peoples Network for Environment, Philippine
- Alyansa Tigil Mina: Anti-mining Philippines
- Vanuatu Cultural Centre (VKK)
- Terra Madre
- Focus on the Global South
- La Via Campesina