The Federal Government has just announced the review saying it wants to make sure it’s getting the most out of every aid dollar. NGOs say that to do so it should consider decoupling AusAID from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Meredith Griffiths reports.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: It’s the first full-scale review of Australia’s aid program in nearly 15 years. The Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd says the money should be spent reducing poverty and providing health services.

KEVIN RUDD: This represents some $4.3 billion of investment by the Australian taxpayer each year. Fantastic work is being done. Lives are being saved. People are being educated. Mothers and babies are surviving as a result of what we are doing. I just want to make sure that we are driving every dollar as far as it can go.

GARY LEE: We have to ask the question, how much of that is actually aid money in the sense that it is helping to facilitate development and poverty alleviation?

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Gary Lee keeps an eye on Australia’s aid program for the independent group AID/WATCH.

GARY LEE: Previous reviews of the Australian aid program have noted how significant portions of the aid budget actually ends up back in Australia because of its reliance on private contractors.

And there is spending included in this year’s aid budget for example on controlling irregular immigration and upgrading detention facilities in Indonesia which I would say these sort of spending is not about development but about Australia’s strategic and commercial interests.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Gary Lee says there’s not enough information in the budget to quantify how much Australia has spent alleviating poverty. He says that’s something that should be considered by the review.

GARY LEE: I do hope that this review also looks at some of the structural issues around the aid program, for example the relationship between AusAID and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and whether it should be separated.

And the issue of whether we should have a separate minister responsible for international development assistance.

And looking at issues for example around creating an independent body that does monitor the Australian aid program to ensure greater transparency and accountability of our aid spending.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: AID/WATCH says Australia’s strategic and commercial interests too often prevail over the needs of communities.

GARY LEE: And that creates problems in terms of what projects are identified, who has a say in identifying those priorities and how that aid is delivered.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: The charity ActionAid agrees Australia needs to set aside its national strategic interests and make sure its aid money is going to the poorest people in the world. The chief executive officer Archie Law has welcomed the review but has some concerns.

ARCHIE LAW: Firstly that there’s no real involvement from the community sector in this review. I think there’s a danger it focuses relatively narrowly on the role of aid in driving economic growth.

We think it’s quite crucial that the words human rights aren’t mentioned anywhere in the terms of reference for the review or any of the releases around the review.

And also I think even more importantly, where are the voices of people living in poverty in this review? How are they going to be able to input and say how well Australian aid has delivered on their dreams and their aspirations?

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Archie Law says Australia should follow the UK and the EU’s example and adopt a human rights framework for its aid delivery.

ARCHIE LAW: Within a country, how do we work with the poorest groups? In India, and from Australia’s perspective, how do we support civil society groups that are actually building poor people’s ability to hold their government to account for the services that they’re meant to deliver to those people?

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: The Federal Government recently announced it was cutting the number of technical advisors it sends to Papua New Guinea and East Timor in an attempt to eliminate waste.

AID/WATCH and ActionAid say that’s a good start but there are still more such positions that could go.

MARK COLVIN: Meredith Griffiths.

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