The deputy leader of the Australian opposition Liberal Party and foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop says the aid budget has been spread too thinly under the Labor government.
She's welcomed the decision to re-focus on the Asia Pacific region and says she'll hold the government to account for all of its aid spending.
Julie Bishop says there have been concerns about the administration of the foreign aid program for some time.
Presenter: Joanna McCarthy, Canberra Correspondent
Speaker: Julie Bishop, deputy leader of the Australian opposition Liberal Party and foreign affairs spokeswoman
BISHOP: There have been evidence and allegations of waste and mismanagement and questionable priorities and an over reliance on highly paid technical consultants and that's why I called for an independent inquiry into our foreign aid program and to ascertain whether Australia had the capacity to properly manage the forecast large increase in the budget. The government did take up our call. They have conducted a review, which was released today with 39 recommendations on how aid is delivered and priorities in terms of outcomes and countries to whom it should be delivered.
The government's response has accepted the recommendations in principle and I will go through it very carefully to ensure that it does meet what the Australian public would expect of our overseas aid program. Importantly, the review recommends strict performance benchmarks must be met and I expect the government to detail those benchmarks as soon as possible and to detail how our aid program will be tested against those benchmarks. Because the report warns that the forecast increase in the rate of funding is steep and challenging, it recommends that there be strict benchmarks each year be contingent on things going to plan and points out that failure to achieve a benchmark must have consequences that could include withholding funding or reducing the rate of increase.
McCARTHY: Now, as you know, the government has accepted the recommendation that the Asia-Pacific be a main focus of our aid program, but it is going to phase out the aid program to China and India on the grounds that these are now the giants of the Asian economy and have become aid donors themselves. Do you accept that given that there is still significant pockets of poverty within both of those countries?
BISHOP: I certainly accept the targeting of our aid in the Asia-Pacific area, that is what I've been calling for and that is why I've been so critical of the government spreading our aid budget far to thinly across the globe, particularly in pursuit of Kevin Rudd's campaign for the seat on the Security Council in 2013-2014. So I support a refocus on our aid effort on the Asia-Pacific.
In relation to China and India, the amount is not significant in terms of the entire aid budget and it is a recognition that China is now the second largest economy in the world and that India is something like the sixth largest economy. But I understand the government still intends to provide funding for multi-lateral organisations into those countries. What they are targeting is the bilateral, that is country-to-country aid programs.
McCARTHY: The fact that they're still will be an increase in aid to South Asia and Africa, and the government says there's a growing middle power. We cannot tackle poverty without focusing on those regions. Do you still support a general boost in aid to those areas?
BISHOP: I will be looking very closely at specific programs for those areas. Australians expect our aid budget to be spent with very strict controls over the expenditure to avoid waste, mismanagement and most certainly fraud or corruption. They expect targeted priorities that will led to a reduction of poverty, but particularly in our region where the security and prosperity of countries close to us affect Australia's national interest and we must ensure that our aid budget leads to greater self-sufficiency in the recipient countries, rather than encouraging a welfare dependency.
I am concerned with the aid budget being spread beyond Africa into Latin America and the Caribbean. This seems to be in support of Kevin Rudd's bid for a seat on the Security Council. I think it's worth noting that countries like Great Britain are withdrawing aid from the Asia-Pacific and focusing on Africa and countries in their region. That's why I think Australia should focus our efforts on the Asia-Pacific specifically.
McCARTHY: One of the government's proposals is for a rolling four year whole of aid budget strategy which would include all government departments that deliver aid, including, for example, the military aid to Afghanistan, which has been criticised for a lack of transparency. Do you welcome that and in government would you do the same?
BISHOP: I think it will be a considerable challenge for the government to achieve that. I note that it is one of the recommendations and the government has accepted it. We will have to see how it works in practice. But of course I welcome greater transparency, greater accountability, I welcome the measures to ensure zero tolerance is the norm when it comes to fraud, corruption, as well as waste and mismanagement.
McCARTHY: There is a bipartisan commitment to boosting our aid program to point-five per cent of gross national income by 2015. But during the last budget, we did hear the Opposition Treasury spokesman, Joe Hockey, perhaps making an issue of the boost to aid funding. There have also been suggestions that members of the Opposition wanted to scrap the Indonesian education program. Is the commitment to boosting aid to point-five per cent of GNI rock solid on the Coalition?
BISHOP: That's our policy and the report picks up our concerns that have been expressed for sometime and because the report does warn that the increase in the rate of funding has forecast will be steep, it will be challenging, and we have questioned AusAID's capacity to cope with such an increase in the aid budget. But if these strict benchmarks are put in place, we're spending each year contingent on the benchmarks being met, then that will address many of the concerns that people across Australia have about the management of our aid budget.