6 Responses

  1. Stephen Howes
    Stephen Howes January 8, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    I want to respond to these comments (for which many thanks) with two points.

    Satish argues that it could never be right to claim costs on asylum seekers as aid. I disagree. The aim of aid should be to reduce poverty, and resettling asylum seekers achieves that aim. The problem in Australia is that we don’t know what the money is being spent on. All we have is Senator Carr’s statement that the cost relate to “basic subsistence for refugees waiting to have their claims heard in Australia” and that “This will cover food, shelter and other essential items.” We need more information on what costs are being counted as aid, and what costs will be in the future. But we should avoid a blanket rejection of counting asylum seeker costs as aid, just as we should avoid the argument that some have made (not Satish) that aid should not be spent in Australia. In fact quite a lot of aid is spent in Australia – think of scholarships for example.

    But even if the decision to count these costs as aid is legitimate it doesn’t imply (as Dennis Blight argues in his comments) that the decision is fine. The way in which the decision was made is surely problematic. Cutting AusAID’s budget half way through the year by almost 10% cannot be good for aid effectiveness.

    Robin Davies and I have revisited the asylum seeker issue in our blog on aid challenges in 2013. We included this issue as the third of five key aid challenges for 2013. Here’s what we say: “The third [challenge] is to articulate and release a policy in relation to the use of aid for asylum seekers, explaining the basis for determining which costs are counted as aid, in line with OECD guidelines, and which are not. Most OECD countries charge some of their asylum seeker and/or refugee costs to their aid budgets. If aid is about helping poor people overcome poverty, and if that is the purpose for which these costs are incurred, that seems fair enough. But Australia’s decision to increase, massively and abruptly, this charge to the aid program creates a very large contingent liability for the aid budget. How much of Australia’s very large asylum seeker bill will the aid budget be expected to pay? Was last year just a toe in the water? Clarity around this issue is urgently required.” Our full post is available here.

  2. Denis Blight
    Denis Blight December 20, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    I appreciated the blog and its sentiments. However, it might be inconsistent to recognise – as the blog rightly does – that support for refugees qualifies as ODA but then to argue that the reallocation of aid from one legitimate purpose to another such purpose amounts to a reduction in aid.

    I recall the debate in the mid 80s on the discovery by the Jackson Committee of the $100 million ‘subsidy’ to overseas students who enrolled at Australian universities at the same (or only slightly higher) fee levels to those applying to Australian students. Australia’s ODA count increased but AIDAB as AusAID was then known had no additional funding to spend. However, the problem was corrected over time as the subsidy was phased out and spending on full scholarships under Equity and Merit Scheme was steadily increased. The ‘subsidy’ which had been directed to relatively well-off students was replaced with a targeted scheme for the poor and disadvantaged.

    Instead of railing against a legitimate government policy change and expressing doubts about the quality of support for refugees or displaced persons, it might be better if the development community worked on ways to evolve the means of support for them to higher quality forms of assistance from the aid program.

  3. Nic Maclellan
    Nic Maclellan December 19, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    Pacific Solution (Mark 1) under the Howard government saw shocking examples of poor governance in the aid budget. The Federal Budget papers did not reflect the full costs of all departments operating in Nauru and Manus (AusAID, Australian Federal Police, Health etc), or extra costs outside the core departmental programs.

    Amounts reported in the annual May budget papers were routinely upgraded in supplementary estimates, and official development assistance (ODA) for Nauru was supplemented by an extra budget line “Nauru additional”. On orders from then Foreign Minister Downer, the budget papers in 2006-07 and 2007-08 did not even reveal the amount for “Nauru additional”, stating that the figure is “not for publication.”

    This was an unprecedented lack of transparency, as noted in this exchange during Senate Estimates in May 2007:

    Senator Hogg: Are there any other such transactions in any of the documentation related to
    Mr. Scott Dawson [AusAID]: There are no other measures that I am aware of that have an instruction from ministers that they are to be presented with a “not for publication” annotation.
    Senator Hogg: So there is nowhere else where this committee – if it pored over the documentation line by line – would be denied access to the appropriate figures. Is that a correct assessment?
    Mr. Dawson: That is correct
    (Senate Estimates, Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade Committee, Monday 28 May 2007, p.86.)

    It seems that we’re heading down the same path again. Little wonder that our lectures to Pacific governments about accountability and transparency get short shrift.

    1. Joel Negin
      Joel Negin December 30, 2012 at 1:01 pm

      Hi Nic,

      I remember reading that exchange when I did the research for my blog a couple months back. All the more reason we need to ensure that there is more scrutiny on where the funds are going. I’m sure there will be accounting tricks and we need to keep asking the right questions. It is obviously hard to compare what happens against counter-factuals but we can compare against per capita spend in comparable countries or against the spending between 2007 and 2012 (ie. the non-Pacific Solution era).

      Whoever thought that aid was moving out of the shadow of foreign policy and national interests must feel a bit sheepish now (including me…).

  4. Brendan Rigby
    Brendan Rigby December 19, 2012 at 1:03 pm

    Thanks for the in-depth analysis Stephen. I have also looked at the issue from a different perspective, placing this move in the historical context (and growing trend) of DAC member countries to report ‘in-donor refugee costs’.


    I think it is important to consider Australia’s decision in this context, as it is also representative of the failings of the current aid system. What perhaps is significant to note, is the early lack of consensus from DAC members around this issue in the ’90s. Many were against the reporting method. Now, only two countries do not report these costs as ODA. There is no standardisation around this reporting. It is very inconsistent among DAC members.

    Australia has a track record of this reporting, but after the 2005, it disappears and does not occur again until 2009. But, the amounts of reported ‘in-donor refugee costs’ are insignificant at this stage. In 2010, it represented only 0.17%! Now, it will account for 7.2%. I think you break down the motivations behind this move well.

    It is a growing trend among DAC members to report these costs. However, we need to re-open the dead debate in the DAC about whether -in-donor refugee costs’ should be reported as ODA.

  5. Satish Chand
    Satish Chand December 19, 2012 at 10:24 am

    Using part of the aid budget to fund border protection is simply wrong. And others doing the same is no excuse. The argument that sheltering and feeding refugees offshore is the same as helping them onshore is just as flawed. Providing food and shelter to refugees abroad is core humanitarian assistance: period. Incarcerating them onshore (or in Nauru, PNG, etc) as part of border protection is pre-planned punishment to deter further boat arrivals. Using funds allocated for ‘humanitarian assistance’ for ‘inhumane treatment’ of refugees is morally reprehensible. Worse still is having the cheek to claim the latter as the former.

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