Australian Aid is the Australian Government agency responsible for managing Australia's overseas aid program. Australian Aid provides advice and support to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, presently Julie Bishop, on development policy, and planned and coordinated poverty reduction activities in partnership with developing countries.
Prior to 31 October 2013 it was an executive agency under the name AusAID (the Australian Agency for International Development) but was integrated into the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The objective of the current aid program is to assist developing countries to reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development, in line with Australia's national interest. AusAID was an independent agency under the Financial Management and Accountability Act, part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) for the purposes of the Public Service Act which covers human resources and non-financial accountability. AusAID's head office was in Canberra. AusAID had representatives in 25 Australian diplomatic missions overseas.
The agency saw a variety of names and formats. It was founded in 1974 under the Whitlam Labor government as the Australian Development Assistance Agency (ADAA) to fulfill a role that had previously been the responsibility of several departments. It was renamed the Australian Development Assistance Bureau (ADAB) and brought under the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio in 1976 under the Fraser Liberal government. It became the Australian International Development Assistance Bureau (AIDAB) under the Hawke government in 1987, before being given its current name by the Keating government in 1995.
It also saw repeated cuts to aid contributions during its lifetime, as the level of 0.47% of gross domestic product during the Whitlam years was slashed to 0.33% under the Hawke and Keating governments, and has at times been even lower under the Howard government. Cuts have not been limited to aid levels either; in mid-1996, the Howard government slashed the agency's running costs budget by 24% amidst a round of cost-cutting measures.
In 2005 John Howard committed Australia to double Australian aid to about $4 billion a year by 2010. At the time of the 2007-08 budget, the Government announced total aid of $3.2 billion and an expectation "to continue increasing development assistance, to $3.5 billion in 2008-09, $3.8 billion in 2009-10 and $4.3 billion in 2010-11."
On 18 December 2008, the William J. Clinton Foundation released a list of all contributors. It included AusAID, which gave between US$10–25 million.
In September 2013 the incoming Abbott Government announced it would merge AusAID into DFAT to align aid with diplomacy, causing the AusAID's Director-General Peter Baxter to resign from that position (taking extended leave) and Ewan McDonald taking over as Acting Director. On 1 November 2013 the agency ceased to be an executive agency. From September 2013, the functional body of the old AusAID within DFAT is referred to as "Australian Aid", and most activities and staff were carried over under the new arrangements.
Prior to 30 June 2013, the agency reported to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Australia's first Minister for International Development was appointed on 1 July 2013. The current Director General is Peter Baxter. With the new Abbott government in power, the Minister for the DFAT is also the Minister for International Development.
The Australian government is committed to the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals — agreed targets set by the world's nations to reduce poverty by 2016-and incorporates the principles of aid effectiveness into all its activities.
The 2005–06 Annual Report recorded 18 staff in the senior executive service out of a total of 516 public servant staff. 68 AusAID public servants are serving long-term postings outside Australia. These figures do not include locally employed staff outside Australia.
Total Australian Official Development Assistance in 2005-06 was A$2,605 million, not all of it administered by AusAID. AusAID administered $1,587 million of expenses in 2005-06 and also had departmental expenses (i.e. under its direct control) of A$78 million.
AusAID's key manual was AusGuide - A Guide to Program Management, which is available on the AusAID website. However, changes in the approach to aid programming that crystallised in the government's 2006 White Paper have not yet been fully incorporated into a revised version of AusGuide. Many of the changes can be summarised as a move from traditional stand-alone projects managed by contractors to more sustainable, long-term programmes of assistance with untied procurement.
Over most of AusAID's existence, tenders providing services associated with aid programs were generally limited to firms from Australia or New Zealand, or firms doing substantial business in those countries; only in 2005 did the agency liberalise its guidelines to allow firms from the recipient country to apply for some tenders. The agency was considerably more liberal with construction contracts, allowing bidding from any company worldwide, though this has the effect of shutting out many potential bidders from recipient countries.
In 2002, as part of an international initiative, AusAID untied aid to Least Developed Countries. Since the White Paper in 2006, all AusAID procurement was untied (i.e. open to international firms) except for the Australia Indonesia Partnership for Reconstruction and Development (AIPRD). There have not yet been significant numbers of contracts awarded to international firms.
AusAID's most vocal critic is the left-wing NGO AID/WATCH. AID/WATCH argue that "The flow of aid can be constructive particularly in programs of emergency relief and health. However, development projects can have detrimental effects on local communities when the donor country imposes decisions without the appropriate assessment of social, cultural and environmental needs." Specific criticisms of AusAID include allegations that it services Australian commercial interests through its procurement policies; promotes particular economic and trade policies that AID/WATCH regards as detrimental to the poor; lacks transparency; and has seen aid been misused to support foreign policy, such as promotion of the so-called Pacific Solution for processing people seeking asylum in Australia.
AID/WATCH critiques of AusAID's procurement policy have not been updated to reflect the untying of most aid procurement from April 2006.
AusAID has also been criticised from the right-wing, particularly the Centre for Independent Studies. Helen Hughes of the CIS has argued that "aid has failed PNG and the Pacific" – a criticism of the broad policy and approach of aid rather than the specific administration of AusAID.
There has been media criticism leveled at AusAID over the selection, equality, effectiveness and transparency of its contracts with consultants and advisors. One article claimed consultants are being paid more than Australia’s prime minister.
In February 2012, based on information provided by the Israel Law Center, World Vision Australia (WV), a non-government organisation not affiliated with AusAID, allegedly provided "financial aid to a Gaza-based terrorist group," the Union of Agricultural Work Committees (UAWC), which they also alleged is a "front for terror group the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine." WV had "suspended its dealings" with UAWC until the outcome of the investigation. WV resumed working with UAWC after AusAID and World Vision found the allegations were unfounded. According to The Australian newspaper, 'AusAID has written to Shurat HaDin to confirm that a detailed investigation has been conducted into the claims and no evidence has been found to substantiate them'. However, an investigation by the Jerusalem Post "revealed that the PLFP’s Arabic language website includes detailed reports on the UAWC’s work."