(Australian Associated Press)
Most Australians want the Morrison government to focus its $4 billion foreign aid budget on the country’s poorest neighbours.
Australia’s aid budget is set for a major overhaul, with the government wanting a much sharper focus on economic infrastructure and connectivity.
Dennis Richardson, who has led the foreign affairs and defence departments, will lead the review.
Consecutive coalition governments have cut billions from aid spending since 2013, but the review is not expected to result in more funding.
Instead, it is expected to centre on building strategic and economic partnerships in the Indo-Pacific, against a backdrop of China’s irrepressible rise.
International Development Minister Alex Hawke said it would also consider leveraging private sector investment and opportunities for Pacific workers to fill shortages in Australian regions.
“The new policy will reflect the government’s increased emphasis on strategic and economic partnerships in the Indo-Pacific and our deepened commitment to our Pacific neighbours through the step-up,” Mr Hawke said.
The Department of Foreign Affairs measures aid spending against priorities including whether Australia’s national interest and influence is extended and the impact on growth and reduction in poverty.
This performance framework is also expected to be scrutinised in the review.
Public submissions will close on January 31.
Ahead of the review, the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) commissioned a public poll on how the money should be spent.
Three in five of the 1042 people surveyed late last week said Australia’s aid should primarily serve the poorest people and those most in need.
One-third of respondents believed the spending should primarily serve Australia’s interests, while seven per cent did not know.
“Prioritising the poorest and most marginalised people should be the foundation stone of the Australian government’s assistance to our neighbours,” ACFID chief executive Marc Purcell said on Tuesday.
“Building peaceful and stable countries starts with improving the wellbeing of the poorest.”
ACFID, the peak body for non-government international development groups, wants the assistance targeted at the bottom 40 per cent of people by income in poor countries.
“By taking this approach, we can help build a more open, peaceful and stable region from the ground-up,” Mr Purcell said.
“This is the way to build long-term development impact and create a world in which our partners and Australia can thrive.”