In 1997 the Howard Government gave Australia’s foreign aid program a ‘poverty reduction’ focus with a ‘national interest’ link, later developing ‘good governance’ as the principal program theme. This anticipated the IMF and World Bank’s 1999 abandoning of ‘structural adjustment’ in favour of ‘poverty reduction’ programs, and build on National Competition Policy established by the previous Labor Government. Most aid moneys are now contracted to private Australia (and New Zealand) based companies, and the total aid budget has grown considerably. However, more contracts for Australia-based companies have not made any real impact on poverty reduction, nor have the many ‘good governance’ contracts acted to support democracy in the region.
Despite some changes – such as abandoning Labor’s Development Import Finance Facility scheme, which subsidised developing country imports of Australian goods – the Coalition Government’s program has shown more continuity than divergence with Labor programs. This paper suggests that the Australian aid program is best understood by identifying and explaining its main neoliberal and neocolonial themes, including the interventions in public administration, supported by ‘good governance’ arguments. Some consequences of the Australian program can then be illustrated, through recent developments in Papua New Guinea and East Timor, two of Australia’s most important aid recipients.
Australian Review of Public Affairs, A Decade of Howard Government: A Public Symposium