Care’s CEO, Julia Newton-Howes, outlined the details at a Canberra conference called to discuss the findings of a recent joint review of the Australia-PNG Development Co-operation Treaty.

Presenter: Canberra Correspondent, Linda Mottram

Speaker: Professor Stephen Howes, director International and Development Economics, ANU; Dr Julia Newton-Howes, CEO, Care Australia

MOTTRAM: The review was handed to both governments earlier this year and recommended a shift away from technical assistance, also finding that Australia’s 450-Million dollars in annual aid to PNG is too thinly spread, in part explaining an apparent lack of impact. The report was discussed at a forum this week in Canberra at the Australian National University. One of the report’s authors, Professor Stephen Howes, who’s director of International and Development Economics at the ANU’s Crawford School, also talked about the findings on how to manage an aid exit strategy with PNG.

PROFESSOR HOWES: We responded with four main points. First we tried to put it into historical context and just to go back to those drafts to underline the fact that PNG has in fact been exiting from, that is reducing its reliance on Australian aid for quite sometime. Second, while we endorse PNG’s aspiration to exit from aid, we noted that as other countries have done. This should be on the basis of success, otherwise one becomes not an aid graduate, but an aid orphan.

MOTTRAM: Professor Howes also noted that not until 2018 will the major share of the anticipated revenues from PNG’s much-vaunted liquefied natural gas project begin to flow. So in the meantime, there was an argument for more not less Australian aid to PNG to fill the gap, but within a longer-term aid exit strategy. Professor Howes also addressed the issue of the decision to pursue a broader economic co-operation treaty between Australia and PNG.

PROFESSOR HOWES: Current arrangements are outdated. At the time of independence, aid from Australia to PNG roughly equalled trade between the two countries. But today trade exceeds aid by a factor of 10 to 1. It’s odd therefore that we should have a treaty governing our aid, but not one guiding broader cooperation and integration between the two countries.

MOTTRAM: But overall, Australian aid, Professor Howes said should focus on success. supporting work that is proven to deliver results.

And the conference heard a strong plea for the aid budget in PNG to be focussed specifically on poverty alleviation. It came from Julia Newton-Howes, CEO of the non-government aid group, Care Australia, and a former AusAID official.

DR NEWTON-HOWES: It’s been identified that around 15% of the population of PNG live in clearly geographically identified areas on the fringes of highlands, inland lowland areas which are significantly disadvantaged and they live in situations of considerable deprivation.

MOTTRAM: That means incomes of less than 100 kina a year, a restricted diet, poor access to services, a low life expectancy and high maternal and infant mortality.

In a bid to design ways of tackling the needs of those people in particular, Care Australia is running pilot work, and has done a study in one particular region of 260 households in Yelia local government area in Obora Wonanara in Eastern Highlands.

DR NEWTON-HOWES: Although it does represent a geographically small area, I believe that there is a lot of evidence that this data is representative of these much broader regions which accommodate something like 15 per cent of PNG’s population.

MOTTRAM: Doctor Newton-Howes, described a population with very poor diets low in animal and vegetable protein which suffer two periods a year of several months duration known as the hungry times. They earn around 20 kina a month from coffee while education levels are very low, especially for girls. And infant mortality runs at about one in five live births, twice PNG’s national average. Young men are leaving, but no remittances are coming back to the area, cementing poverty and general decline. Doctor Newton-Howes says it appears the people of Yelia have never ever received government or NGO assistance.

She described the situation in desperate terms, underlining her organisation’s view of where Australian aid should focus first and foremost.

DR NEWTON-HOWES: This disadvantage is being passed on from generation to generation. It’s a chronic humanitarian emergency which deserves to be addressed. Addressing it should be at the core of Australia’s aid program.

MOTTRAM: It’s a challenge indeed to Australia’s new Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd, and Parliamentary Secretary for the Pacific, Richard Marles.



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