The latest federal budget announcement to drain $224 million from the national aid funding pool should be seen against the landscape of the Coalition's changing perspectives on international aid. In launching new aid directions almost exactly two years ago at the National Press Club, Foreign Minster Julie Bishop argued, "innovation is intrinsic to our thinking and our policy development."
That word, innovation, is generally a euphemism for doing more with less. But, while most have views on this, and on its politics, it's a essentially diversionary discussion. The reality is those of us in aid do need to do better with less. We always do.
That won't change no matter who wins government on July 2.
In seeking to innovate, we should look to develop smart aid programs with well-formed delivery mechanisms. We need new aid vehicles that can work within the existing aid structures, particularly in relation to the Sustainable Development Goals; we need to find ways to capitalise on areas where Australia has a strong presence and operating culture already, and we need ideas that can be put to use now.
One such vehicle ticks all those boxes: sport.
Let's take perhaps our most thorny aid destination: Indonesia.
As our nearest neighbour, the world's largest Muslim country and a breeding ground for terror groups which have left our nation in mourning more than once, the archipelago to our north is writ large across both our history and our present.
A succession of Australian governments have struggled to deal with the vast nation and few have got a handle on how to best shape our aid outreach to this vast nation.
Aid and trade have formed the backbone of the last decades of relations between Jakarta and Canberra. The relationship has largely avoided getting trapped in minefields like East Timor, West Papua, Timor Gap, capital punishment, terrorism and Barnaby Joyce's thought bubbles largely because those dominant core interests serve both parties well.
How can the aid part of that be maintained in the wake of the latest trend to cut aid funding further and further with each passing budget announcement (aid has been cut in the last four federal budgets)?
In a recent report produced by the United Nations Office for Sport for Development and Peace, the authors averred "Well-designed sport activities that incorporate the best value of sport – self-discipline, respect for one's opponent, fair play, teamwork and adherence to mutually agreed upon rules – help individuals to build the values and communication skills necessary to prevent and resolve conflict in their own lives."
Working on such manifestly broad areas, sport can directly target hot-spot areas in Indonesia (and elsewhere too) like education, health, gender equality and social radicalisation, all areas to which the government is keen to tie our aid programs.
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