To discuss some of the major issues of 2013, AidWorks host Albion Harrison-Naish, was joined by the heads of three prominent Australian aid NGOs. CARE Australia’s Dr. Julia Newton-Howes, ActionAid Australia’s Archie Law and Act for Peace’s Alistair Gee provided an engaging conversation about a variety of issues.
After a brief discussion of the recently-announced further cuts to Australia’s aid program, the panellists discussed the various cuts, diversions and delays suffered by Australia’s aid program over 2013. The conversation also covered issues like climate change and the developing world, the evolution of emergency humanitarian responses, the rise of the BRICS nations and how this will likely impact on development models, as well as the debates over the post 2015 development agenda.
To state that the announcement of AusAID’s integration into the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT) was met with consternation is an understatement. A very fitting and reflective eugoogly was given by Robin Davies on the Devpolicy blog. Among other remarks, Robin points to the anxiety many staff inside the organisation-formerly-known-as-AusAID (#WasAID) must be feeling about their livelihoods. The first sign of the coming aidpocalypse was when @DFAT followed us @WhyDev on Twitter. (We are one of 501!). The Government was also quick to announce after its election victory that $4.5 billion would be ‘cut’ from the foreign aid budget. (Around $700 million supposedly in the first year).
The second sign of the aidpocalypse was when WhyDev was contacted by a friend, who had been accepted into AusAID’s graduate program earlier this year. They had signed the employment contract and were due to start as part of next year’s intake. However, they received a phone call earlier this week informing them that not only had their position been terminated, but the entire intake of foreign aid graduates for next year had also been terminated. Aid will not be back. (It is not known what the fate of the DFAT graduate intake will be for next year). The formal letter of termination was shared with WhyDev on the condition of anonymity. (See below). Another friend of WhyDev received the same phone call today.
It is not known what other staff, programs and sectors within the Australian aid program are also considered by DFAT to be “excess to requirements”. The current Government plans to reduce the number of public service jobs by 12,000. DFAT’s Peter Varghese, in The Conversation, says, “We don’t know what our share of that reduction is going to be, but we know that we will have to deal with a reduction in staff”. He goes on to portend, “There has to be a general acceptance that we’re going through this integration process but that the spine of our organisational structure is going to rest with the DFAT organisational structure”.
In the Canberra Times last week, it was reported that AusAID staff saw a DFAT officer standing on the balcony of the Department’s building, pretending to shower the AusAID crowd below in a hail of machine gun fire. (I can imagine this same DFAT officer saying, “Say hello to my little friend”). We can only assume that the worst is yet to come for the remaining foreign aid orphans.