28 Responses

  1. kate duggan
    kate duggan November 8, 2013 at 7:27 am

    Thanks Robin for a great comment on the change. It’s important that we understand it. I’m not so optimistic that the DNA can be changed. The elephant in the room is the difference in this dimension that you raise – culture/personality. AusAID and DFAT both do important things but they are vastly different things. The AusAID poverty focus was something relatively recent in a coherent sense. It felt like an important point in the evolution of the aid program. It’s gone I think. For now. I really feel for AusAIDers. We’ve lost a lot. I’m sure there are smart people working out what next but I still worry.

    1. Toni
      Toni November 8, 2013 at 10:13 am

      Over the past five and a half years I have liaised with AusAID staff on funding and program delivery. The partnership model implemented and the exchange has been professional and produced very positive outcomes. Monitoring and evaluation, value for money and overall measuring success occupies a space of qualitative outcomes which has evolved with global imperatives. The amalgamation of AusAID and DFAT will likely result in a cross pollination of values, systems and organisational culture. Integrity, empathy and accountability are worthy professional values to uphold. The up and coming graduates seeking work in the foreign affairs and international development fields will be provided with opportunities in a stronger and united outward looking organisation representing Australians and Australia’s interests in the international sphere.

  2. Fadzai Mukonoweshuro
    Fadzai Mukonoweshuro November 7, 2013 at 11:09 pm

    A very good piece indeed. Having joined AusAID as local staff in Zimbabwe where the organization has been able to achieve results in a difficult political environment one reaches a point of great sadness when the future is uncertain. Not so much for the possibility of losing jobs, but on thinking how and whether this new arrangement will work. Just wondering whether we have embarked on a journey where we are taking two steps back in order to take one step forward or vice versa. All remains to be seen. I hope that not much time will be spent getting the new structures perfect while losing the momentum that the aid program had gained in these parts of the world.

  3. Margaret Regnault
    Margaret Regnault November 7, 2013 at 6:58 am

    Robin, Thank you for that excellent eulogy for an organisation that I worked in from almost the very beginning – from those days of the Aid Branch in External Affairs in the early 60’s, through the various changes of acronyms ultimately to AusAID. I can only hope that the professionalism and expertise gained over the decades will not be lost but will enhance that of DFAT. As my mate, Allison Sudradjat was wont to say ‘it’s the best job in the world’.

  4. tim
    tim November 6, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    Echoing the majority of other commenters I hear, I thank you for the piece.

    Having spent many years working beside and encouraging improvement in Australia’s aid program, I too have been encouraged by the knowledge and commitment of so many of its staff. It strikes me, as echoed by Don d’Cruz’s consistent comment above, that this move has little to do with improving our aid program further – and is driven purely by ideology.

    Whilst recognising the success of the supporters of Australian aid who have gained a doubling of the aid program in the last ten years (off a very low base), it seems the quantum of aid debate has filled the always limited public space and left little room for a public discussion about why and how we deliver aid. Focusing on the dollars that go to aid has also evidently wrankled the ideologues like d’Cruz and his friends at the IPA who see this ‘integration’ as an achievement.

    There is of course significant opportunity that will come from this change but enslaving our aid dollars to a larger bureaucracy with a much broader agenda, will likely mean a blurrier public perception of what aid does and not a clearer one. It is difficult too, to see how the new FM will acheive her ‘genuine performance-based benchmarks’ – whatever they may be – with a greatly reduced workforce, a focus on ‘trade not aid’, a return to ‘mutual accountability’ (I look forward to the FM laying down the law to FM Natalegawa on what Indonesia’s obligations will be) and a PM who can’t seem to come to grips with how foreign policy actually works.

    I thank the staff of AusAID for their achievements and wish them the very best in navigating this personally challenging time that lies ahead. There is little doubt the incredible gains in reducing child mortality, in improving maternal health, in bringing polio to the brink of eradication and the millions of other lives that AusAID has made a positive contribution towards, could never have happened without your dedication, skills and commitment.

  5. Mike Freeman
    Mike Freeman November 5, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    Thanks Robin for putting this so well. As someone who has worked outside of AusAID over many years, but with many forays into and adventures with the organisation, I still think the clear aim to reduce poverty is an essential and even noble thing. My sympathies are definitely with the many many people from AusAID who have shared and still share that view and who are now facing the unknown. We collectively need to keep the flame alive.

  6. Cynthia
    Cynthia November 4, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    Also found the article very interesting Robin. It is the sad passing of an era, I hope that AusAID staff can become a positive influence on DFAT and on the new political leadership.

  7. Chris Morgan
    Chris Morgan November 4, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    Such a good overview, excellent capture of the feelings that accompany this transition. As I sit writing reports for a new entity, I’m struggling for a short-hand name, but perhaps AFKA (the agency formerly known as AusAID) will do – which has the benefit of slightly existentialist overtones…

  8. Patrick Kilby
    Patrick Kilby November 4, 2013 at 3:55 pm

    Robin, an excellent eulogy and as one who has hung around AusAID on the outside (mostly as a pesky NGO lobbyist) for thirty of that forty years it has been remarkable how it has weathered so many storms, but not this one: as we move to a new world order in which global self-interest rules, and the rules and standard setting DAC if not dead is certainly ‘pining for the fiords’.

    The challenge of the first few years of AusAID in the 1970s was to get beyond PNG and notice development, which the ‘second wavers’ you mention did. To your list of government reports one should add Harries of 1979 which foisted the notion of the development ‘project’ on us. It also foisted lots of agricultural projects everywhere, including Africa, using Australian approaches and technology (needless to say not a great success); resulting in series of cultural and context mistakes that may well be repeated, as paternalism and self interest re-emerges, and AusAID and broader DAC lessons are lost.

    Thanks again Robin for a great Obit.

  9. Don D'Cruz
    Don D'Cruz November 4, 2013 at 2:30 pm

    What happened to AusAID was predictable and deserved. AusAID had it coming. Good riddance.

  10. Terri seddon
    Terri seddon November 1, 2013 at 11:40 pm

    A beautiful commentary. Ive only known AUSAid from afar but it grieves me to see another organisation swallowed up by mindless short term processes. This is happening in so many places. I understand generational change but I am uneasy about the replacing logics – and how they are used t support thinly veiled vendettas. Why is good sense and sophisticated pragmatism now on the nose?

  11. Peter Leahy
    Peter Leahy November 1, 2013 at 5:09 pm

    Thanks, Robin, for speaking so eloquently and perceptively for so many of us. In recent weeks and days I’ve been struck by just how intensely I have felt the impact of these events. Like so many members of the ‘second wave’, I left AusAID to pursue broader career opportunities in development. But given the defining place of the institution in the Australian aid scene, I never left its orbit. One way or another – directly or indirectly – I have always worked for AusAID. The broader community of Australian aid practitioners is indelibly linked to the Agency, and what it stood for.

    Of course, I left for reasons, as did many others. As your piece acknowledges, AusAID/AIDAB/ADAB/ADAA has always had its shortcomings. And all of us know just how much we complained about it – at times deeply and bitterly. Get two aid workers together and you could almost guarantee that the subject would soon turn to AusAID bashing. But, paradoxically, it is just that antagonism that highlights exactly what is being lost here, and why we feel it so deeply: AusAID was as much an idea as an organisation. It was the idea that we worked for; the organisation merely gave the idea a name, and a home. And it gave those of us who believe in the idea a home, too. Not to put too fine a point on it: at times we hated AusAID because we loved it so much. It was a place that linked our personal ideals and aspirations to those of the nation, and the world. AusAID, for all its flaws, was the public institution that gave a home for those of us who suffered under the ineradicable delusion that wanting to be a good global citizen was consistent with a proper career, and the equally persistent folly that a career in development was a means to try to manifest our better selves.

    So, you can take the boy out of AusAID, but you can’t take AusAID out of the boy. And I hope and believe that the idea will survive the organisation.

    1. Ex-AusAID
      Ex-AusAID November 2, 2013 at 3:14 pm

      Peter – thanks for articulating so clearly how many of us still working for AusAID feel. Despite it’s imperfection and flaws, there was more than one black arm bands being worn on Thursday. As you so beautifully point out, it wasn’t for the passing of an organisation but for the passing of an idea.

  12. Phillip Passmore
    Phillip Passmore November 1, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    A well written, passionate and considered eulogy Robin. I have many good memories of working alongside dedicated AusAID staff, including yourself, providing essential humanitarian support in response to a number of natural and non-natural emergencies. AusAID gained many international friends during those hard days of toil.

  13. Lydia Bezeruk
    Lydia Bezeruk November 1, 2013 at 7:00 am

    I perhaps didn’t realise the extent to which AusAID has become part of my DNA until it was being taken from me. In this part of the world it is still 31 October so I find myself grasping at what little of myself remains, afraid to power down the laptop so I don’t have to see the DFAT logo appear. Thanks Robin to a wonderful homage to “the agency formerly known as AusAID”.

  14. Miri C
    Miri C November 1, 2013 at 6:34 am

    Thanks Robin for a perceptive and eloquent tribute to the AusAID that was. Thanks especially for singling out locally engaged staff – often the longest-serving and most under-appreciated. I look forward to your continued insightful analysis of the Australian aid that will be.

  15. Deb
    Deb November 1, 2013 at 5:22 am

    Thank you Robin, I really appreciated that terrific homage to AusAID’s past.

  16. Alex Marks
    Alex Marks November 1, 2013 at 2:26 am

    A great analysis. Indeed, the only perceptive analysis. Thanks Robin.

  17. chris
    chris November 1, 2013 at 12:37 am

    Well said Robin. As a DFAT officer who has worked with AusAID a lot in some pretty risky countries, I have a high regard for AusAID staff and for the organisation. Please don’t assume that the antagonism for DFAT is reciprocated. I’m sorry to see AusAID go, but DFAT will be the better organisation for the AusAID influx.

  18. de Souza
    de Souza November 1, 2013 at 12:12 am

    A beautifully crafted AusODE. How ominous that our unqualified purpose of ‘helping people overcome poverty’ should be put to death on All Hallow’s Eve; resurrected so fittingly in the sanctified form (the national Interest) on the 1st of November.

    Having worked with AusAID as an implementing partner, I’ve seen the exceptionally good, the woefully bad and the frighteningly ugly. But as a taxpayer and a humanitarian, I believe wholly in the institution and feel yet more despondence about the government directing what we know to be its takeover.

    The challenge for AusAIDers-that-were now lies in remaining as stoic, magnanimous and judicious in the more personal battle of (dis)integration, as in the professional ones of which Robin speaks. Great empathy for job uncertainty and logistical adjustments though I have, and my belief in enterprise agreements and fair remuneration notwithstanding, I implore all to remain principled not petty, constructive not conceited. When an enlightened government is returned, we (Australians) will need you to have penetrated the undesirable imperialism of DFAT culture, and equally, absorbed some of their oft-impressive acuity. When this miscalculation is reversed, both agencies will be the better for it.

  19. Jenny Turton
    Jenny Turton October 31, 2013 at 9:34 pm

    As somebody who has worked in Africa as part of the Australian Staffing Assistance Scheme of AIDAB back in the late 80s, and observed closely the initiatives of AIDAB/AusAID programs in my field in that region over the ensuing years, I am concerned at the implication this restructuring may have for effective Australian aid initiatives in the future. Restructuring appears to be a part of political change at state and federal level, but too often reinventing the wheel results in loss of dedicated staff and a step backwards in effectiveness of initiatives and outcomes.

  20. Bill Pennington
    Bill Pennington October 31, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    Thanks Robin, for eloquently expressing what many of us past AusAIDers are feeling. I, for one, am still proud to say I worked there.

  21. Rebecca Spence
    Rebecca Spence October 31, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    Robin, THANK YOU! Thank you for honouring the commitment, the courage, the vision and the sheer tenacity of AusAID staff over the years. The Nonviolent Non-cooperation phrase made me smile and remember how many gender and conflict sensitive policies and programs have eventuated because people didn’t give up. I have so many AusAID staff to thank for their support and encouragement. We wait and watch.

  22. Sara Webb
    Sara Webb October 31, 2013 at 10:38 am

    Thank you from me too, for this and all your recent writings about the sudden death of AusAID. I have relied on you for insights and calm analysis throughout! While institutional structures shouldn’t really matter if the aid program is genuinely doing good things, and might be slightly crazy to feel sad about the demise of a public service agency, it’s hard not to feel concerned about what may be signalled by this still-perlexing change. What the priorities and culture and incentives will be for the aid program from tomorrow onwards – that is what is important, and still seemingly unknown.

  23. Tony O'Dowd
    Tony O'Dowd October 31, 2013 at 9:45 am

    Thank you Robin. Congratulations on a masterful and heartfelt piece. AusAID won’t get get a better eulogy. Witty, moving and pertinent. Those of us that invested in the ethos of AusAID understand what is being lost. While AusAID always had to adapt and change and it was sometimes hard to pin down exactly what was being achieved, nevertheless we know that the disintegration of AusAID represents the loss of a civilising influence in Australian public life.

    1. Andrea Babon
      Andrea Babon October 31, 2013 at 10:42 am

      A beautiful analysis of what Australia will lose with the loss of AusAID. I have met and worked with a number of AusAID staff- both Australian and national staff in developing countries. Smart, committed, compassionate people all of them. I hope DFAT and elsewhere find good use for their professionalism and passion.

    2. Julia
      Julia October 31, 2013 at 8:07 pm

      Hear hear.

      1. Kim Davis
        Kim Davis November 3, 2013 at 10:35 am

        Thank you Robin great piece,

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