Australia’s aid objective is “to advance Australia’s national interest through the alleviation of poverty and the promotion of sustainable development”. Such an objective raises an important ethical issue: does Australia provide aid when it is not considered to be in our own interest?
Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen has said that human development should be about “advancing the richness of human life, rather than the richness of the economy in which human beings live”.
Our approach to aid in Australia is vastly different to Sen’s. The Australian Government believes that “trade not aid” and “broad-based economic growth” are central to reducing poverty.
The truth is that development is complex, and the trickle down nature of growth alone has not proved a panacea to the billions who continue to exist on less than US$2 a day. Further, the manner in which Australia delivers its aid program suggests that reduction of poverty is not really the main aim.
The Federal Government’s aid delivery arm is the Australian Agency for International Development, or AusAID, an autonomous body that sits under the umbrella of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. AusAID is resourced to impose “development” on our less developed neighbours.
To suggest we can bring development supposes that where we bring development there currently is none - or at least less than we can offer. While adopting this polemic position can be viewed as pessimistic, it is useful in discussing the complex nature of modern development practice. In the unequal relationship that exists between aid donor and aid recipient, allegations of neo-colonialism are never far from the surface.
Australia’s aid objective is “to advance Australia’s national interest through the alleviation of poverty and the promotion of sustainable development”. Such an objective raises an important ethical issue: does Australia provide aid when it is not considered to be in our own interest? The recent South Asian earthquake brought this dilemma to the fore.
According to the United Nations, at least 60,000 people died and more than 2.5 million required immediate shelter in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan after the earthquake.
The Australian Government initially provided $10 million in humanitarian assistance, the same amount we donated to the United States in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. While Australia’s final donation to earthquake affected countries was eventually increased by $4.3 million, international aid has gone little way to meeting the urgent needs of the many affected.
In the weeks following the disaster, as the scale of the catastrophe and urgency of the situation became evident, the UN doubled its required aid appeal to $US550 million.
The obvious question is on what grounds did Australia decide to give $10 million for Hurricane Katrina, when the US is far better equipped with infrastructure and resources to deal with such a disaster than the government of Pakistan, which faced a much greater rehabilitation effort with far fewer resources.
The “national interest” lens through which Australian aid is delivered raises many ethical issues, and increasingly blurs the line between reactive humanitarian aid and development, or proactive aid.
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