Australia’s push to keep an eye on climate change and gender equality in the Pacific through its new aid policy has been welcomed by international organisations.
The latest international development policy is underpinned by a new fund that will use $250 million to leverage private investment and provide direct support to regional community organisations.
From 2024-25, half of all new investments valued at more than $3 million will be required to have a climate change objective. This will rise to 80 per cent by 2028-29.
All projects over the same threshold will also have to include gender equality objectives, as will 80 per cent of development investments of any value.
Launching the policy in front of high commissioners and ambassadors at Parliament House, Foreign Minister Penny Wong said the new development policy would help create a region where other nations can reach their potential without losing sovereignty.
While not naming China, Senator Wong took aim at opaque Chinese infrastructure investment and promised to deliver a transparent and accountable development policy.
“Respect for sovereignty is vitally important for us,” she said on Tuesday.
“That means we don’t engage in the kinds of practices like unsustainable lending that diminish sovereignty, it means our relations are based on partnership and respect.”
Australia will ensure there is a focus on using local Pacific labour for infrastructure projects to double the region’s economic dividend as China often uses its own labourers and underbids for contracts, forcing nations to pay more money to complete the project.
The government is also prepared to stump up millions of dollars to cover gaps between contract bids to ensure Pacific island nations can go with quality infrastructure providers that will use local labour.
UNICEF Australia CEO Tony Stuart welcomed the announcement to place a stronger focus on climate change and social issues.
“Australia’s commitment to prioritise climate change through its development program is critical to collective efforts to protect children, communities and countries from the worst impacts,” he said.
Development Intelligence Lab CEO Bridi Rice said the policy set out strong foundations and stopped an ad hoc approach to international development.
But she said there was a mountain of work ahead for the department to ensure it could actually meet the ambitious agenda.
“It leaves a hell of a lot of big questions unanswered,” she told AAP.
“One is, can the government have the discipline, the focus and the resources to actually implement the ambition?”
Opposition foreign affairs spokesman Simon Birmingham said the policy fell well short of the commitments Labor previously made in relation to aid and development assistance.
The Greens also criticised the policy for not going far enough and called for the government to raise aid spending.
Senator Mehreen Faruqi says the policy “ignores the fact international aid is a necessary and urgent act of global justice rather than an act of charity or an act of self-interest”.
The government has committed an additional $1.7 billion over five years to the international development budget.
(Australian Associated Press)