In a federal election campaign which has been often sadly lacking in matters of substance, the issue of foreign aid has at last struggled its way to the fore in the past week, with the Federal Coalition announcing that, if elected, it will create a Minister for International Development – upgrading the status of a policy area which is currently looked after by a parliamentary secretary – and elevate AusAID to an independent government department. Click here for more details.

It is interesting to see the Coalition taking the initiative in foreign aid when traditionally it has been Labor which has tended to take the stronger position – such as being the first of the two major parties to commit to an aid target of 0.5% of Gross National Income (GNI). No doubt the strong lobbying efforts of organisations such as Micah Challenge Australia and World Vision Australia are paying off.

The Coalition’s announcement has been welcomed by aid agencies including the Make Poverty History coalition and World Vision Australia  which has urged the ALP to match the commitment.

“Elevating the International Development portfolio would bring a more direct line of accountability through parliament and build public confidence that aid and development money is being spent effectively,” World Vision’s Chief Executive Tim Costello said.

“Australia lags behind other countries that have already elevated development efforts to the same level as diplomacy and defence. This ensures Australia reaps the benefits of its efforts to foster stability and economic development in our region.”

World Vision has also welcomed a renewed focus on global policy issues with the Labor Party, the Liberal Party and the Australian Greens all releasing statements on international development today. The Greens have supported the Coalition’s proposal for a Minister for International Development, while Labor has committed to additional investment and increased focus on preventing child deaths and improving maternal mortality rates. Click here for more details.

Both Labor and the Coalition are committed to increasing foreign aid spending to 0.5 per cent of GNI by 2015 but this is still well short of the Millennium Development Goals of committing 0.7% of GNI.

In our questions to all the political parties, the ACL asked “Will your Party confirm the current Government commitment to contribute 0.5% Gross National Income to international aid and development efforts by 2015? What timeline will it put in place to reach the internationally agreed target of 0.7% GNI?” Please click here to read all the party responses.