The first significant aid activity Australia initiated was the post Second World War grants initiative, the initiative saw grants equating to less that 100,000 made to Papua New Guinea. The program was considered quite beneficial and so began the strong aid program into the Pacific region. The Colombo Plan was initiated in 1950, after a joint meeting of Commonwealth foreign ministers. The plan sought to afford support to nations within South East Asia and South Asia. The program has a significant legacy and many within South and South East Asia fondly remember the assistance afforded by this landmark initiative. In the early 1950s the primary recipients of Australian aid were Papua New Guinea, and India. However the complexion of the aid program began to change reflecting Australia’s changing interests in South East Asia. The aid program which was tied closely to low income commonwealth nations prior to the mid 1950s however, in the post period Australia began to respond to the needs evidenced in non commonwealth nations. Indonesia moved passed south Asian nations and nations in the pacific (other than PNG) to become the second largest recipient of Australian aid.
The Jacksons review in 1984 and Simmons review in 1996 each changed the complexion and focus of the Australian aid program. The former brought about significant change in the way the Australian aid program was delivered; resulting in a shift from project based funding, to country program funding focused on the development priorities of the recipient nation. The latter review resulted in emphasis on key priorities, with the pertinent focus being on education, health, governance, and the promotion of gender equality. At present the Australian aid program is multi-faceted supportive of a number of low income countries that are current and former members of the commonwealth, and a number of non commonwealth countries. Notwithstanding the strong and on-going commitment to PNG, countries such as the Philippines, Vietnam and East Timor are all significant recipients of Australian aid. Certainly an intriguing feature of the aid portfolio until recently was the obvious regional focus of the program, resulting in less support being afforded to many of the nations of Africa. There are numerous pragmatic and paradigmatic reasons for this, the most obvious of which being the size of the portfolio and the historical associations with the peoples of the Asia Pacific region.
The Africa Day celebrations of the 25th of March 2010 marked the expansion of the Australian aid framework to include Africa, in a more significant manner than ever before. Australian private sector engagement with the region had always been proactive and relatively strong, particularly within the minerals and resources sectors however public sector engagement has tended to be less strong. Public sector engagement, particularly in the form of overseas aid and development assistance has tended to be more regionally focused, with a strong Asia/Pacific focus given Australia’s strong geopolitical ties with the region. This was a key demarcation of prior aid frameworks, albeit one that was not necessarily a function of intention per se. As noted, while prior aid policy pronouncements have evidenced an obvious desire to focus regionally, this has been due to the Australian polity’s strong association with South East Asian and Pacific nations, and in the case of many Pacific nations a sense of shared history. Not least of which the geographic closeness to the nations of Asia and the Pacific, and the strong social and economic ties with the regions in particular, are likely drivers of prior frameworks. As asserted, when considering the support afforded to India and PNG; a shared colonial history and strong association with the commonwealth were likely drivers.
However since mid 2005 the Australian government has worked ardently to establish stronger relations with the nations of the African continent. In 2007 Australia had established diplomatic relations with only 41 of the 53 nations of Africa. Since then Australia has established diplomatic relations with Burkina Faso, Liberia, Niger, Equatorial Guinea, Sao Tome, the Republic of Congo, Cape Verde, the Central African Republic, Somalia and Togo. The Australian polity now possesses diplomatic relations with all nations of the region, other than the Democratic Republic of Congo and Guinea Bissau.
The relatively recent formation of the Australia Africa Business Council will further serve to strengthen economic and social relations between the two continents. The Business Council will serve as a vehicle through which economic development in the region can be promoted and the interests of the already robust Australian mining enterprises in the region can be represented. Austrade figures indicate that Australian mining sector investment in Africa is already in excess of 15 billion dollars. Pertinently it will also aid African enterprises in establishing markets for their goods and services within Australia. But among the most noteworthy aspects of the Africa Day declarations was the significant expansion of the Australian aid program within the region. The program in the region will support over 30 countries and represents an increase of 40% on the budget from the prior year. Significantly much of the program focuses on areas such as food security, water and sanitation projects and maternal health improvement.
This is a different overseas development aid framework by historical standards and represents a significant departure from the essentially regionally orientated programs of prior periods. What’s more, it’s a framework that strongly emphasises person to person linkages between the African continent and the Australian polity, an acknowledged challenge evidenced by the relative dearth of such linkages historically. This may be a result of the geographic distance between the nations and the relative size of African/Australian Diasporas in each country. However given the significant increase in African migration to Australia in recent years, the size of the African diaspora community has increased significantly, thus improving current and potential person to person and institutional linkages significantly. The significant emphasis on volunteer deployments and professional exchanges in this new aid framework emphasises the government’s obvious desire to develop stronger institutional ties between local agencies and the foreign counterparts.
It would appear that the Australian government is acknowledging a wider role for its overseas development aid beyond the Asia/Pacific region, and is recognising the importance of strong economic and social ties with the African continent. Through this evolving aid framework there is an opportunity to accelerate Australia’s engagement with the region, and facilitate positive development outcomes, while establishing more enduring ties with the continent. The successive Australian government involved in the concerted push for increased engagement should be applauded for their efforts. It can only be hoped that the next government shall continue to pursue strong engagement with the nations of the African continent, and while doing so, continue to acknowledge and further the celebrated role Australia has played in promoting stability and development in the Asia/Pacific region.
First Landing in Mokndoma (Papua, Indonesia)
On July 10, 2014 MAF pilots Doug Allrich and Mike Brown landed at a newly completed airstrip in the highlands of Papua, Indonesia. Missionaries Tim and Rebecca Ingles and Mike Wild tell about how the airstrip will enable believers to reach other members of the Wano tribe. Liku, a Bible teacher from Mokndoma shares his message of the “mirror and shirt” and how God’s Word has changed his life.