Garth Luke from World Vision Australia writes:

Amanda Robbins' article, Beyond budgets: Why aid advocates should rethink their strategy, highlights the difficulties aid advocates experience.

While aid makes up only a very small part of the federal budget (1.4% in 2012-13) it's impact is not experienced directly in Australia and its main beneficiaries do not vote in Australian elections. As a result this tiny part of the budget, which probably enhances human welfare more than any other Australian government spending, is a much larger share of what MPs think of as discretionary funds.

The international aid volume agreements are therefore one of the few tools that aid advocates have to protect and increase aid funding.

Aid campaigners in Australia have never focused exclusively on aid volume, nor have they been zealots about precise achievement of the international targets. Movement towards the target or getting close enough to the target have always been our goals. There is no pedantry around 0.5% or 0.7% of GNI.

We have not focused exclusively on aid quality. This is because aid allocation decisions are often highly political and shaped by a range of actors in government in Australia and in partner countries. We cannot depend on a perfectly efficient, but very small aid program, to make the world a better place. We need a program of sufficient size that it can accommodate the inevitable national interest components while also contributing sufficiently to required poverty alleviation around the world.

For example, well-proven and cost effective health aid has made a huge difference to millions of people around the world — helping to cut child and maternal deaths by half since 1990. Because of aid, child deaths are down in almost every country, not just the ones doing well economically. However there were still 6.6 million child deaths last year largely because of a shortage of funding. It is estimated that health aid and developing country health funding needs to double to prevent most of these deaths.

So where will this money come from? We might be able to get some increase in the share of Australian aid to health, but it is unlikely that we will convince the Government to double the share, no matter how much impact we can show. There are too many competing interests (scholarship funding, infrastructure investments, assistance for countries taking asylum seekers, promises from one leader to another, the unproven hope of kickstarting governance reform or economic growth in partner countries etc).

Luckily, because of the high levels of wealth in countries like Australia, the economic costs are relatively small and we can afford an aid program that both does good and meets other interests. The 2011 Lowy Poll showed that, on average, Australians thought that aid consumed 16% of the federal budget. Even when we reach 0.5% of GNI it will only be around 2% of the budget.

Australia has been increasing the quality and the quantity of its aid in recent years and we are now making a significant improvement to the lives of millions of people. I hope the new Government keeps us on this path. We can certainly afford to do so.