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Development: Australia and UK compared

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COMMENTS

7 June 2012 14:26

Lawrence Haddad is Director of the Institute of Development Studies in the UK.

I have been reading the post mortems on the Australian aid budget with some interest. Here in the UK, the postponement by one year of the Australian pledge to increase foreign aid spending to 0.5% of gross national income by 2015-16 seems more a case of glass half full than glass half empty.

Aid will increase from A$4.8 billion this year to A$5.2 billion next year, but remain 0.35% of GDP. That's not bad given what is happening in the US and Europe (and there are signs of slowdowns in China and India too). In a world of constrained aid quantity, where aid spending is struggling to break 1% of government spending, surely now is the time to focus on quality of aid spending.

But perhaps an even bigger issue is the performance of the other 99% of Australian government spending: what is it doing to further international development? Using Centre for Global Development's Commitment to Development Index, which ranks 22 donor countries, we can compare the UK and Australia in 2011 in terms of aid and on much of the other 99% of government expenditure.

On aid, the UK ranks 7th (untied, high flow, non proliferation of projects, but weak tax support to private giving) compared to Australia's 13th (mostly non tied, tax policy to support private giving, but large share given to less poor countries). What about the other categories?

Trade: Australia (2nd) vs UK (13th)

Australia scores the top rank on low tariffs on agricultural imports from poorer countries, although it has high tariffs on apparel and textiles. The UK has low import tariffs on textiles and apparel, but scores poorly due to the high subsidies given to UK farmers.

Investment: Australia (4th) vs UK (1st)

Both countries do well in supporting responsible and healthy investment in poorer countries.

Migration: Australia (14th) vs UK (19th)

Both countries do poorly supporting the movement of people from poor countries to settle within their shores. Australia does well on foreign students, UK does better on bearing the burden of refugees during humanitarian crises.

Environment: Australia (20th) vs UK (3rd)

UK does well on fuel taxes, greenhouse gas emissions, no fishing subsidies and reporting against biodiversity agreements. Australia's greenhouse gas emissions are growing almost as fast as GDP; low fuel taxes.

Security: Australia (3rd) vs UK (19th)

Australia makes significant contributions to international peacekeeping and scores well on relatively low arms exports to undemocratic governments. UK also does well on peacekeeping support and provides security to keep trade lines open, but is the worst ranking on arms exports to undemocratic and poor countries.

Technology: Australia (12th) vs UK (20th)

The UK does poorly because it restricts innovation flows to poorer countries via a range of patents and intellectual property restrictions and because a large percentage of its research and development goes on defence. Australia does better than UK because it does not attempt to incorporate intellectual property restrictions in trade agreements.

Overall commitment to development: Australia (9th) vs UK (10th).

So Australia just pips the UK in its commitment to development, even though it performs significantly worse in terms of foreign aid. Areas for Australian improvement include migration, technology and, most obviously, environment.

I am involved in a study supported by the big UK NGOs to dig a little and get behind the UK numbers. Australian NGOs do a terrific job of holding government to account on the 1% of expenditure on aid; it seems to me that they could do a lot worse than focus on the other 99% too.

Photo by Flickr user UK DFID.

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