It’s time for Australia to better navigate a fracturing world order

The Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) – the peak-body for Australian international development NGOs – has released a Strategic Framework that the Government can adopt as their new International Development Policy. It calls for a major transformation of Australia’s development program to effectively navigate a fracturing world order and meet diverse development needs in the Asia-Pacific.

In its submission to the Government’s aid policy review – led by Foreign Minister Marise Payne, and Minister for International Development Alex Hawke – ACFID’s proposed International Development Policy and Strategic Framework responds to global risks and regional opportunities for Australia, first identified in the Government’s 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper.

ACFID argues that Australian and regional security is at risk due to underinvestment. Without political drive and clarity in our foreign policy portfolio, Australia is missing opportunities. Australia’s four-billion-dollar development cooperation program should sit at the heart of Australian foreign policy in building better lives and relationships in the region. If we help our neighbours tackle their development challenges, this will “earn Australia a reputation as a deeply invested, consistent and respectful friend” in a period of geopolitical contestation.

Commenting on the proposed policy, ACFID CEO, Marc Purcell, said:

“The Australian Government’s intent and the desire of the Australian people is to live in a peaceful, prosperous and cooperative region. We want to see a development cooperation program to match.

“Our proposed Strategic Framework is a result of work undertaken amongst 300 regional development and foreign policy experts, presented on behalf of almost 150 ACFID members and affiliates, who represent 1.5 million Australians supporting international development. ACFID speaks with one voice when we say it’s time for a major rethink of Australia’s Development Cooperation Program.

“The ability to achieve strong and enduring relationships will hinge on whether we do what we say, and whether we can generate development impact with partner-nations. That is key to our regional influence.

“Alarmingly, we have experienced a period of sustained underinvestment in the Department of Foreign Affairs which is charged with delivering on the Government’s Foreign Policy White Paper goals. Couple this with a lack of strategic direction for development cooperation overall, and we have seen a race to the bottom for short term wins across Australia’s bilateral relations in the Indo Pacific. This must be re-balanced towards long-term planning and investments in international development and relationship-building.

“To ACFID and Australian NGOs who work in 86 developing countries, Australia’s approach must have a resolute focus on the well-being of all people and communities and prioritise the most marginalised people who are being left behind in development.

“ACFID’s submission outlines a rebalance towards core investments that we know address the root causes of poverty and conflict. We must commit to contributing to the long-term development goals of partner nations, based on mutual respect and trust. This includes taking more active regional leadership on issues like rising illiberalism and climate change, which threaten to undermine our partner’s development gains.”

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