OECD Development Co-operation Peer Review: Australia 2013

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OECD Development Co-operation Peer Review: Australia 2013

Posted 20/05/2013 by Ravi Tomar

On 6 May 2013, the Development Co-operation Directorate (DCD) of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released the OECD Development Co-operation Peer Review: Australia 2013. The Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the OECD carries out peer reviews of member countries’ aid programs approximately every four years. Australia’s last review was undertaken in 2008.

The current Review notes that since the 2008 Review, ‘AusAID has gone through the biggest change in its history’ which represents an ‘unprecedented reform of Australian development co-operation’ (p.13). The Review points out that 80 per cent (16 recommendations) of the 2008 Review has been implemented and 20 per cent (4 recommendations) partially implemented (pp. 9; 107–111).

As discussed in the Backgrounder on ODA in the Parliamentary Library’s Budget Review 2013–14, Australia’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) has increased from 0.27 per cent of Gross National Income (GNI) in 2007–08 to an estimated 0.35 per cent of GNI in 2012–13. This has resulted in a substantial restructuring of AusAID (in 2009, 2011, and 2012) and its establishment as an Executive Agency in 2010.

In response to the Independent Review of Aid Effectiveness in 2011, the Government released a new aid policy, An Effective Aid Program for Australia in July 2011. Australia’s Comprehensive Aid Policy Framework to 2015–16 (the CAPF) was released in May 2012, which, according to AusAID, ‘is a four-year plan for how, why and where Australian aid will be spent to 2015–16 and the results that will be achieved with that investment’. As such, it is designed to guide future growth in the aid budget.

Overall, the Review is quite positive about Australia’s aid program. On AusAID’s management of organisational change, it states:
Australia has managed its organisational change strategically. The integration of development objectives and corporate systems provides incentives to implement the reform and achieve development objectives. Other donors can learn from AusAID’s experience (p.68).
On the integration of gender equality, capacity building and disability in projects, it states:
Australia’s solid integration of gender equality, capacity development and disability in projects and programmes is a good example of its holistic approach to development. Its exceptional emphasis on disability makes it a leader in this area internationally (p.17).
On the increase in staffing levels, it states:
Australia has made impressive progress in managing human resources effectively to respond to field imperatives and new ways of working …
AusAID’s workforce has grown by 66 per cent since 2008 to reach a total of 2124 Australian public service (APS) and locally-recruited staff (referred to as Overseas Based, or O-based, staff). The bulk of new staff were recruited in 2011-12, reflecting a strategic move to frontload staffing in time for the real increase in the aid budget in 2011 and planned increases up to 2016 (p.69).
It commends AusAID in that it has ‘worked hard to develop an awareness of the ODA definition to ensure it is adhered to in other government agencies, which is especially important given the increasing ODA budget’ (p.53).
While commending Australia for a 29 per cent increase in ODA since 2007, it is, however, critical of the Government’s decision in December 2012 to reallocate $375.1 million from the AusAID budget to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship as ODA-eligible expenditure on asylum-seekers who are waiting to have their claims heard in Australia:
Its decision to use AUD 375 million of the aid budget for in-country refugee costs has also resulted in a significant reallocation of AusAID’s regular programming. It is important that Australia is transparent about what refugee costs will be counted as ODA over the coming years and how they are calculated, while avoiding future in-year reprogramming of the aid programme to ensure predictability (p.51).
The announcement that a large amount of in-country refugee costs will be counted as ODA represents a significant change in Australia’s approach. In 2009, for example, Australia reported USD 1.5 million as in-donor refugee costs, USD 5.5 million in 2010 and zero in 2011. In line with its Transparency Charter, Australia should be transparent about what costs will be counted as ODA over the coming years and how they are calculated. Australia has followed DAC guidance on counting refugee costs as other donors do; however, there are wide discrepancies in DAC members’ interpretations of the rules for reporting on in-donor refugee costs. DAC members could work together to bring more clarity to these rules (p.52).
The Review also observes that Australia has nearly doubled the number of countries to which it provides country programmable aid, from 54 in 2008 to 97 in 2011. This is a consequence of a recent expansion of the aid program into Africa and the Caribbean, making Australia ‘one of the least-concentrated DAC members in terms of country programmable aid’. This is a result of the provision of scholarships and small grants in many countries where Australia does not have a substantial bilateral program. It cautions that ‘Australia should regularly assess the development impact and sustainability of these investments’ (p.56).

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