LISA CORNISH | News Limited
AUSTRALIA’S COALITION GOVERNMENT will crack down on the spiralling administrative costs of foreign aid after it was revealed spending almost quadrupled since 2007.
Between 2007 and 2012, Australia's aid spending doubled from $3 billion to $6 billion, now costing every Australian $291.80 a year.
Data released by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development shows administration was last year the third biggest spend of Australia's Overseas Development Assistance at $378 million - up from $102 million in 2007.
These administrative costs were more than double the money allocated for basic health care and more than four times the money used to provide basic drinking water and sanitation.
Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said the Government will monitor aid costs closely, with a focus on administration.
"The Coalition has commenced the development of performance benchmarks to apply to the aid budget to ensure that taxpayer funds are used efficiently and effectively," she said.
"Administrative costs will be one element included in the benchmarking which will apply from the 2014/15 budget."
"The previous Labor government failed to implement reference benchmarking despite being a key recommendation of the Independent Review of Aid Effectiveness. As the minister responsible for the aid budget I am determined that it is subject to appropriate rigour."
The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the costs were for managing the now defunct AusAID with the scale up in costs "reflecting the larger aid program".
Remoteness, warfare and governments in recipient countries were identified as factors in increased administrative costs.
OECD manager of data collections Yasmin Ahmad said Australian aid was focused on countries in South East Asia and Oceania, "some of which are fragile states".
But for Papua New Guinea, the second largest recipient of aid in 2012, the increase of almost $250 million since 2007 has resulted in limited improvements in areas it is needed the most according to Keith Jackson who provides PR services in PNG for clients including Bougainville Copper.
"The Prime Minister of PNG has said they are happy to receive less aid," he said. "Like me, locals are looking at the aid spend and wondering where it is going."
Mr Jackson blames Australian administration for the apparent ineffectiveness of aid.
"AusAID acted like a bank, handing out money to big projects that were poorly managed," said Mr Jackson. "What PNG needs is small scale projects managed tightly."
Afghanistan is seeing similar issues, according to Chilla Bulbeck, Secretary of the Support Association for the Women of Afghanistan.
"I think aid should be increased, but it needs to be better directed," she said. "There are many layers of bureaucracy that contributes to waste. For example, a road built in Afghanistan as part of an aid project cost five times as much as it should have after all the middlemen had taken their cut."
A total of 148 countries and regions received aid from Australia in 2012, up from 93 in 2007, with Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Afghanistan the top recipients last year.
The new data for the first also included the time the cost of in-country refugee support.
"On the 17 December 2012 the previous government announced that the costs associated with the sustenance of asylum seekers on residence determinations or bridging visas class E during their first 12 months in Australia were to be funded from the aid budget," said a spokesman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. "These costs were not previously included in ODA calculations."
In 2012, this totalled more than $173 million.
A spokesman for Tanya Plibersek, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Development, said Labor's aid record was nothing to apologise for.
"Labor reformed Australia's aid program to be one of the most accountable in the world - to ensure precious aid dollars were being spent most effectively," he said. "We make no apologies for increasing transparency and accountability because Australians have a right to know that our overseas aid is being used properly."