11 Responses

  1. Paul Oates
    Paul Oates September 5, 2015 at 12:36 pm

    To anyone who has watched ‘Yes Minister’ and Yes, Prime Minister’ the subject of public surveys is very clearly explained when Sir Humphrey Appleby takes staffer Bernard aside and explains the process to him.

    The results of any survey depend on what questions are asked and in what sequence.

    Let’s go back to over half a century to the origins of the ‘Colombo Plan’ that began as a concept in 1949. What was the aim of the Colombo Plan? What obvious and lasting effects Australia’s continuous overseas aid program has really achieved? Was that due to the phenomenon of what’s known as ‘boomerang aid’ or was it due to the ephemeral effects of something similar to a short term ‘sugar high’? Was our aid to promote ourselves with our neighbours or to influence them politically? Was it to get a warm and fuzzy feeling that we as a so called lucky country could willingly share our good fortune?

    If the answer is all these objectives and more then perhaps the real problem is that any process with a multitude of spoken or unspoken objectives often ends up being the proverbial ‘dog’s breakfast’ or a multi cobbled together animal built like ‘topsy’. If the huge amount of aid monies have achieved no long term advantage for Australia but in some cases only caused resentment then maybe we need to revise the concept completely? If our tax money goes to governments who then are able to use their own money to salt away funds in tax havens or even shall we guess, Australian banks, what practical benefits for the people at the grass roots are we really achieving? There’s no way we could or should get into a ‘bidding war’ with other and far larger economies. New Zealand seems to achieve far more with far less than Australia? Why is it someone at the decision making level isn’t logically starting to wonder?

    The Australian economy is currently not the most robust with an exponentially growing deficit. Successive governments together with union pressure have allowed our manufacturing capacity to become unviable and shipped overseas due to unsustainable wage rises that keep trying to keep pace with inflation caused by previous wage rises. Can we therefore still keep funding overseas aid at the current level when ‘charity begins at home’?

    Younger generations referred to as ‘X’ and ‘Y’ are reputedly now blaming us Baby Boomers for all the problems of the world and for impossibly expensive housing when they have enjoyed all the benefits we achieved with hard work and very little wealth and now seem unable to pass these onto the younger generation. Of course that is after the X’s and Y’s have demanded political change and more of everything without worrying about what that resulted in achieving. Responsibility? What’s that in political terms? ‘A week’s a long time in politics’ is a quotation attributed to Britain’s former PM Harold Wilson.

    If there is someone who might possibly answer to the title of ‘the average Australian’ they aught surely to start questioning what we are actually doing in reality by allocating scare resources and funding to a ‘pie in the sky’ at a time we can least afford it. However the old obfuscation of ‘bread and circuses’ or today’s ‘football and welfare’ equivalent will surely be able to assuage any concerns within a few nanoseconds even if they appear at all in a proverbial and momentary ‘thought bubble’.

    The real issue that is constantly obfuscated in the aid debate is hidden in the word ‘percentage’. Many claim Australia should give more when told what percentage of our budget is devoted to overseas aid. Yet how many actually take the time and effort to find out how much of our national cake is already spoken for with Health, Education, Social Security (pensions, etc.), taking up the vast majority of what is or might become available. Our Defence spending has woefully been allowed to subside in a time of increased world tension and where successive PM’s want to strut their stuff on the world stage with the US (here we are bro’) and try to get some glimmer of kudos to turn attention away from their dismal inability to manage our economy and provide true leadership.

    The last factor that must be recognised is the inevitable legion of consultants, academics and so called ‘experts’ who glean a rich living from pontificating over whether we (i.e. ‘us’ others) should increase our foreign aid and by how much? How much of their salaries are the highly paid prepared to contribute to a non-focussed objective in a foreign and virtually ungoverned country where the money ends up be corruptly syphoned off into tax havens and personal bank accounts without ever achieving any real progress for those it was intended to help?

    Have those that seek to influence our collective national aid program taken a constructive look and detailed investigation of what long term benefits of our long term aid programs have actually achieved? An example of what I’m referring to are the projects that purchase machines without any ongoing maintenance program. These are just like giving a useless plastic toy that gives a brief illusion of benefit but in fact only further increases the feeling of despondency of those who really are looking for help when it breaks and falls apart.

    So what’s the answer? Start educating those who are giving the aid to understand what works and what doesn’t. Mere graphs and manipulated surveys that convey a false impression are only helping to perpetuate the problem. Start educating both those who contribute and those who are supposed to provide effective leadership about the realities of overseas aid. What’s that I hear you say? No votes or stipends in that…..

    Thank heavens I haven’t become cynical in my senior years……..

    1. Paul Oates
      Paul Oates September 8, 2015 at 6:57 pm

      Given the thunderous silence to my last observations on this subject I am persuaded by a recent article that has just appeared in the PNG media to add a few more suggestions.

      It has just been announced by the Oz High Commission in PNG that 100 million Australian ‘aid’ dollars has been allocated to send Australian university students to spend short periods of time in PNG to ‘deepen their academic and life experiences through study and work placements in Papua New Guinea.’

      These placements will be for periods of up to 4 weeks and apparently the students are to work alongside operational positions in PNG.

      Who ever dreamed this idea up has surely got to be an under experienced denizen of an ivory tower in Canberra and no doubt in close contact with those who lurk behind the razor wire in the Oz HC.

      What on earth can some young student gain by working for a short time (2 to 4 weeks) in PNG when they need to know and be well prepared to understand the customs, language and social conditions of the work area they are going to supposedly obtain some experience in. Apart from the distinct possibility that there may well be some very negative, short term culture clashes, exactly what will this ‘experience’ give Australia in terms of value for money or to PNG for that matter?

      2 weeks to study ‘Leadership’ by walking the Kokoda track can no doubt give a great experience to whoever has been lucky enough to be given this opportunity and good luck to whoever it is. But on a broader scale, exactly what is Australia and PNG getting out of the $Aus100 million of taxpayer’s dollars that could not be better obtained by using these scarce funds to create a comprehensive training facility for both those who might be sent to PNG and those from PNG who are sent to Australia for training and experience?

      If Australian taxpayers were actually told about the reality of how their taxes are being spent and these programs effectively audited on pre set and transparent benchmarks on long term, clearly definable benefits for both our nations, there might be some real value achieved.

      Failing that obvious and non reported deficiency, I would be very interested to hear some concrete views on whether this exercise in spending 100 million dollars is of any long term benefit to either nation apart from perhaps creating some short term, personal e mail or facebook contacts that can’t possibly convey more than a brief impression of the disparate working conditions and a subsequent lack of any comprehension as to why this is so.

  2. Garth Luke
    Garth Luke September 3, 2015 at 12:10 pm

    It’s great to see continuing attention to this area of public opinion Camilla and Terence. It is clear from all the surveys carried out to date that there is a high proportion (70-80%) of Australians who support the Government providing aid but that this support is not strong when it is presented as against competing domestic expenditures.

    This should not come as a surprise given humans’ strong focus on our own needs and those of our family and neighbourhood and the many close-to-home struggles that every family must deal with.

    Surveys such as Eurobarometer show that the difference between those countries with high levels of aid and those without is not in the level of public support for aid but in the actions of a small number of political leaders who make decisions about budget allocations. Given that the 0.5% of GNI aid target would only require 2% of the federal budget, and therefore cannot greatly impact budget balances, it is clear that whether we have a generous or a miserly aid program is the outcome of decisions made by a few in executive government.

    What the public thinks about these decisions is shaped by whether they are told “We can’t afford more aid, we have a budget crisis, it doesn’t work anyway and its often lost to corruption” or “We are a wealthy nation, we can afford to give more aid, we know that aid has saved and improved millions of lives despite the risk of corruption and we could help millions more people if we increased our level of aid”.

    One day, hopefully, we will elect political leaders in Australia who have more generous hearts and consistently send the second, more factual, message to the Australian public.

    1. Stephen Howes
      Stephen Howes September 9, 2015 at 2:47 pm

      Paul, accuracy is important. The $100 million is for the entire reverse Colombo plan, over 5 years (and not just to PNG). It is not aid-funded.

      1. Paul Oates
        Paul Oates September 9, 2015 at 3:35 pm

        Hi Stephen. I guess it depends on your perspective. If the Australian government (i.e. the Australian taxpayer) is funding this plan and the plan is involving our relationship with PNG then why is this not anything to do with ‘Australian Aid’? Aren’t we actually guilty ‘splitting hairs’? Exactly who is benefiting here?

        If we are paying Australian students to gain experience in PNG, then maybe PNG should be asking the Australian government to pay them for providing ‘the PNG experience’?

        The essential issue here is not whether this expenditure is either labelled ‘overseas aid’ or merely just part of our Foreign Affairs budget involving another nation. The issue is whether this is a waste of scarce resources and could and should the money be better spent actually helping our next door neighbour, who has been kind enough to offer this opportunity to Australian students when overseas aid has actually been reduced except for PNG.

        Secondly, and most importantly, exactly how will 2 or 4 weeks experience with ‘PNG operational or line positions’ actually help Australian students without any substantial preparation for such a large cultural gap to cope with or any real language and appropriate cross cultural training to help them understand what they are in effect experiencing.

        Then there is apparently no stated and pre set benchmarks or transparent assessment methodology of the program by either Australia or PNG. It will however undoubtedly help justify the legion of consultants and officials who will be tasked with managing the process but only have obfuscated responsibility should any ‘difficulties’ be experienced.

        So if this isn’t ‘overseas aid money’ or apparently benefiting our Foreign Affairs, then why isn’t this part of the program funded through the Education budget? Isn’t the money merely just another ‘boomerang aid’ project that is intended to slip under the Australian public’s radar?

        1. Ashlee Betteridge
          Ashlee Betteridge September 10, 2015 at 9:19 am

          The New Colombo Plan also sends students to developed countries in Asia, like Singapore and Japan. We wouldn’t consider that ‘aid’. Why should it be any different for PNG? It’s a student mobility program, with no development objectives. The objectives are to build a base for longer-term engagement in the region by young Australians. The students that go on the short-term mobility placements are largely participating in a supervised ‘field school’ type credit, usually coordinated by their home university in Australia, or a semester of language training or something similar. They aren’t in-line or in operational positions at all.

          It’s not aid, so it can’t be boomerang aid. Whether one thinks it is a worthy investment in regional engagement is another matter entirely.

          1. Paul Oates
            Paul Oates September 10, 2015 at 10:30 am

            Thank you Ashlee and Stephen for your responses. You are quite correct in that the New Colombo Plan initiative should not be labelled direct overseas aid.

            I have now received and am studying a comprehensive policy statement from DFAT. The original PNG media release was perforce rather lacking in any real detail. I agree ‘Overseas Engagement’ might be a better and more appropriate terminology. The results of this initiative may well prove beneficial to Australia’s national interest. The extensive requirements for students who apply to join may select those attending tertiary institutions most suited to engage in this program.

            My concerns as to whether they as representatives of Australia, are uniformly trained, prepared and transparently reported on is however another matter and I reserve my thoughts until I have thoroughly perused the official policy.

            Notwithstanding, my original observations about surveys on whether Australians per se even think let alone know anything at all about ‘overseas aid’ still stand and are apparently unchallenged.

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