In 2013-14, Australia’s foreign aid budget reached its highest level ever–just above $5 billion. Since then, there has been a sharp drop–and in 2016-17, in real terms, our foreign aid returned to the same level it was at a decade earlier. Although the 2020 COVID-19 hit has urged the government to increase aid, our analysis shows the increase is only temporary and aid will be cut to below pre-pandemic level.
The chart below shows foreign aid provided by the Australian government since the 1960s, in both current prices, and adjusted for inflation. (If you aren’t sure what counts as foreign aid, learn more on our Aid 101 page). All data from this page is drawn from the Federal Budget, unless otherwise noted. You can read more on how Australia’s aid volumes compare to other developed countries on the Comparisons page.
Official Development Assistance (ODA) is calculated by the Australian government. It follows the OECD DAC agreed definition of aid, but this definition (a) changes over time and (b) allows for some discretion. In 1983-84, for the first time, the Australian government contribution towards the education in Australia of developing country students was included in ODA. This change in definition increased ODA in that year by $98.6 million, about 10%. For more on data and definitions, visit the data sources page.
Note: When we talk about foreign aid, we are normally talking about aid given by governments. This aid, sometimes called Official Development Assistance (ODA), doesn't include the money donated by the public to NGOs.
Aid received little attention. It had a slow underlying rate of increase of just 1% a year, taking it (in 2021-22 prices) from $2 billion in 1970-71 to $3 billion in 2003-04.
The scale-up decade. Aid increased rapidly over this period from $3 billion to $5.8 billion (in 2021-22 prices), an annual average growth rate of 7% a year.
The scale-back. By 2019-20, aid had almost fallen to its 2007-08 level.
Aid was increased in 2020-21 due to COVID-19. Competition with China is growing. The future of Australia’s aid is uncertain: watch this space.
The usual way of looking at the generosity of aid donor countries is to compare their foreign aid to the size of their economy, measured using Gross National Income (GNI). The internationally agreed aid-to-GNI target is 0.7%. For a time during the scale up period of Australian aid, both major political parties had agreed to increase government aid to 0.5% of GNI. Yet, as you can see from the chart below, while the scale-up reversed the decline in this ratio, the goal was never reached.
Our share of aid to GNI declined to its lowest level ever in 2019-20, and based on budget forecasts, will then decline further. You can read more on how Australia's ODA/GNI ratio compares to other developed countries on the Comparisons page.
Another way to analyse Australia's aid over time is to look at aid per capita--how much Australia gives per person. On average, between 1961-62 and 2020-21, Australia's annual official development assistance per person has been $177 (2022-23 prices). From the chart below, it is clear that this increased substantially during the scale-up era, but now has dropped below the level achieved during most of the 1970s and 80s. Based on budget forecasts, by 2025-26, aid per capita will be $144 (in 2022-23 prices). You can read more on how Australia's per capita contribution compares to other developed countries on the Comparisons page.
Many Australians believe our government spends much more on aid than it actually does. In a 2015 poll, some 43% of respondents did not know how much Australia spent on foreign aid, and 19% believed that 5% or more of the Federal Budget went to foreign aid. In reality, our aid spending has typically accounted for around 1% of the Federal Budget. The percentage of aid from total Australian government spending has been on a downward trend since 2013-14, and is projected to be just 0.72% in 2022-23.
Learn more by reading budget coverage on the Devpolicy Blog.
Many individuals donate to international development NGOs to help a specific country or cause or as part of a humanitarian appeal. This is additional to government aid. The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) is the peak body for international development NGOs in Australia. In the charts below, we show how Australians’ donations to ACFID members, as well as the largest two non-ACFID member NGOs (Médecins Sans Frontières and Compassion) have changed over time. Donations increased following the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, but remained relatively flat between 2007-08 and 2014-15, after adjusting for inflation. Both total donations and per capita donations experienced small declines from 2014-15 to 2018-19, although the downward trends stabilised in 2019-20. International development NGOs are having to spend more funds to raise more. The final graph shows trends in net public donations: donations from the public after fundraising costs have been subtracted. Read this blog for more information on public donations.