Endless cash donations do nothing to aid Asia
Britain has recently decided to stop overseas aid to India. It had become untenable for the Government to take money from British taxpayers to subsidise a nuclear power with a space program.
It’s time Australia took a similar, hard-nosed approach to overseas aid. If the Asian Century means anything, it means Australians realising that the hubris, paternalism, and sentimentalism reflected in an old style ‘first-world helping out the third-world’ aid program is anachronistic.
Mutual economic and social benefit must be the criterion for any investment of Australian funds in another country. Leveraging and increasing Australian strengths must be the strategy.
Here are the three key elements of a radically revamped, strategic, overseas investment program:
We should fund our major universities to provide facilities, programs and linked scholarships in cities across South Asia, SE Asia and E Africa
A major focus of this investment should be around agricultural, medical, and scientific research facilities and programs. Food production, disease eradication, and new advanced technologies should be the results by which we judge this investment.
Talented Australians wishing to do their courses or research in these overseas locations, with all the resulting language and cultural side-benefits, should be able to access the scholarship places available at the foreign locations, alongside local scholarship holders.
We should establish major food and emergency supply reserves
We should also provide the defence force logistics, lift and deployment capacities necessary to rapidly deliver these reserves in response to natural disasters and war. The defence lift and deployment capacity should also be capable of supporting, sustaining, and protecting peace making and keeping campaigns.
There should be joint and regular exercises with regional defence forces, and Indonesian and Indian defence forces in particular, to ensure emergency and peace-keeping preparedness and effectiveness. The costs of such reserves and programs should be treated as aid expenditure.
We should create an Australian Micro-Credit Fund
The fund should release significant capital to Australian banks willing to establish themselves in South Asia, South East Asia and East Africa and deliver micro-finance lending programs as part of their business. The aim will be to inject the capital that will allow growing middle classes to purchase products and services from the micro-businesses that can emerge with such support from amongst the poor.
Existing lending programs focused on small businesses run by women, and with linked health and education programs that they fund from their own success, already exist as benchmarks.
No more hand-outs to foreign governments or multilateral bureaucracies in the vain hope of currying diplomatic favor. No more funding for NGOs – they would have to rely on education campaigns and the marketing of their causes to donors to do the work they favor. Just investments that build on Australian strengths, nurture people-to-people understanding, and deliver mutual benefits to Australians and the citizens of the countries in which our tertiary and financial institutions invest.
Two billion dollars per annum in each investment area could be a good redirection of our current and projected aid investment. As there would be a much clearer benefit to Australians from these programs, sustaining a growing allocation for overseas investments should be easier politically.
Thousands of talented overseas students linked to our international research universities; thousands of young Australians learning foreign languages and cultures as they study fully funded overseas-based courses; well-funded, leading edge, world transforming Australian-led research programs; thousands of micro-businesses pulling the poor up into small business oriented middle classes, with the longer-term impact of self-replenishing and growing credit funds; a capacity to reach out effectively in disaster and war to feed and protect, with highly mobile, emergency ready, defence-based deployment capabilities.
That’s the kind of focused, smart, hard-nosed aid program the Asian Century demands of Australian Governments.
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