Annalisa Prizzon is an economist with the Overseas Development Institute, the UK's leading development think tank.
Australia hasn't had a Minister of International Development since the mid-1990s, but the appointment of Melissa Parke MP to the Rudd ministry on 1 July in that role came as little surprise. Australia's aid budget has been growing since the mid-2000s, the last three years have seen the three largest increases ever, and reinstated Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had intimated that such an appointment was on the cards.
The question is: what does this mean for Australia's aid program?
A lot of ink has been spilt on analysing how to deliver aid more effectively and, since the 2011 High Level Forum on aid in Busan, how development cooperation more broadly can be improved. However, surprisingly little is known about what sort of donor-country political arrangements are needed to deliver the best results.
Drawing on an extensive number of peer reviews of donors, a 2009 OECD study found that political leadership does contribute to the delivery of effective development cooperation. By 'political leadership', the OECD means the designation of 'a sufficiently senior and publicly accountable figure with clear responsibility at the political level' for development cooperation.
More recent research which I conducted on behalf of Action Aid Italy and BOND analysed how representation for development at the political level affects commitment to aid among EU countries. A few clear-cut messages emerged.
Identifying the ideal political structure to deliver the best aid results is no easy task – there might be caps on the number of ministers in the cabinet, and systems may evolve too rapidly to assess their impact. Also, correlation doesn't imply causality: ministerial postings and aid commitments may go together for a range of more fundamental reasons.
Yet we found all EU donor countries that met or exceeded the EU aid to gross national income target of 0.51% in 2010 had a minister for international development in their cabinet. Furthermore, aid flows were more likely to be on the rise (or ring-fenced during the financial crisis) in countries where development cooperation was led by a dedicated minister at cabinet level.
And it's not just the amount of aid that seems to be affected: countries with a cabinet-rank minister outperformed those without one across every qualitative indicator of aid effectiveness (ownership, alignment, harmonisation, mutual accountability, results).
Unlike the ministerial posts in the countries we looked at, Minister Parke won't sit in the cabinet. She will share responsibilities for aid with Foreign Minister Bob Carr. However, Parke's international experience suggests she will be a vocal leader for development cooperation in Australia. Her appointment reflects the emphasis Rudd's government places on development cooperation. Evidence suggests that the presence of a political leader on development cooperation can be critical to meeting aid commitments. With a federal election set for later this year, whatever the outcome may be, we should hope the post persists.
Photo by Flickr user Australian Civil-Military Centre.