Uncertain future: Australian aid to Afghanistan

Australia’s Official Development Assistance (ODA) to Afghanistan has increased substantially over the past few years from $82.1 million in 2009–10 to a peak of $198.4 million in 2011–12. Afghanistan was the fourth largest recipient of Australian ODA in 2012–13 (after Indonesia, PNG and the Solomons) with an expected expenditure of about $182.8 million. This includes ODA-eligible expenditure by other government departments, including Immigration and Citizenship ($6.9 million), Defence ($9.2 million) and Attorney-General’s–Australian Federal Police ($17.7 million).

Approximately 20 per cent of AusAID’s expenditure was in Uruzgan and included the following programs:
  • Children of Uruzgan Program ($35.7 million, 2011–15) for basic health and education services being delivered by Save the Children.
  • Uruzgan Rural Roads Program ($25 million, 2012–15), managed by the UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) involving community based employment.
  • Small Project Facility ($13.9 million, 2010–13) supporting local development projects and managed by GIZ, a federally owned German company.
  • Support for Local Government Program ($10 million, 2010–13) involving capacity-building and implemented by GIZ.

Uruzgan province also receives assistance through the national-level Public Financial Management Program ($10 million, 2012–15) delivered through the Development Assistance Facility for Afghanistan (DAFA). The two projects managed by GIZ come to an end in December.

 At the Recognition Ceremony in Tarin Kot in Afghanistan on 28 October 2013, Prime Minister Tony Abbott stated:

Thanks to Australia’s presence here and that of our American, Dutch, Singaporean and Slovakian allies, there are now 26 girls’ schools out of 200 schools in Uruzgan – that’s a twentyfold increase since 2001. Up to 80 per cent of expectant mothers receive at least some prenatal care, care that was almost non-existent a decade ago and 200 kilometres of roads and bridges have been upgraded.
The ceremony also ‘marked the closure of the Provisional Reconstruction Team, which directed Australia’s civilian-led development efforts in Uruzgan.’
Consequently, from 2014, oversight and monitoring of Australia’s aid program will be Kabul-based and more of the aid funds are likely to be directed to national programs, which already receive 80 per cent of total assistance.

On 20 May 2012, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that Australia’s aid to Afghanistan would increase to $250 million per year by 2015–16, saying that ‘it was important for the international community to provide sustained, reliable support to help Afghanistan meet its development challenges and to protect recent gains in areas like health and education’.

The budget estimate for 2013–14 (as of May 2013) for Afghanistan was $180.4 million.
However, the 2013–14 aid budget statement and related expenditure has been superseded by the Coalition Government’s decision to reconsider the aid budget. As a consequence, the overall budget estimate for 2013–14 has effectively been reduced by $656 million.

The Final update on Coalition election policy commitments (5 September 2013) stated: 

It is unsustainable to continue massive projected growth in foreign aid funding whilst the Australian economy continues at below trend growth.

Australia needs a stronger economy today so that it can be more generous in the future.

The Coalition will cut the growth in foreign aid. We will index the increase to the Consumer Price Index.
It is not clear which programs will be affected and no details are currently available. The Australian Greens have called on the new government to retain aid in post-war Afghanistan. In response to a question from Senator Rhiannon at the Supplementary Budget Estimates in November 2013, a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade official stated ‘The government are very aware of the extent of that savings task. They will provide us with their decision in due course’.
With respect to Australia’s aid to Afghanistan, the future is decidedly uncertain.

Firstly, the commitment to increase the quantum of aid to $250 million by 2015–16 was based on the premise that the overall aid budget would show a consistent increase. Secondly, with the freeze in real terms of the aid budget announced by the Coalition Government, funding for various programs will have to be cut. These reductions will become even more significant if, as has been reported, funding for the two largest recipients, Indonesia (an estimated $646.8 million in 2013–14) and PNG ($507.2 million in 2013–14) is to be preserved.

Besides, the future of Afghanistan itself remains uncertain. Tony Abbott, as Leader of the Opposition, observed at an address to the 2012 RSL Annual Conference on 25 September 2012:

Afghanistan could easily revert to the dark ages once Australian and allied forces withdraw, but every day our soldiers stay means more girls going to school, more rights for women, and more awareness of the possibility of a better life.

Tags: Afghanistan, aid


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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