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Australian government to remove NGO political comment gag rule

Dr. Andrew Leigh, Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities, and Treasurer, announced the new Australian government’s intent to scrap NGO funding conditions that prohibit advocacy or comments on political issues.

The new Labor government will seek to remove restrictive clauses in new NGO funding agreements. Restrictive conditions in place in existing agreements would not be enforced by the regulator, the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.

The previous Australian government placed these conditions on organizations receiving government funding. According to Leigh, the Labor government contends that charities should be able to comment on legal, social, and environmental issues without financial repercussions.  

News article – The Guardian

Australian commits US$35 million in immediate food support for Sri Lanka

Australia’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Senator Penny Wong, announced A$50 million (US$35 million) in support of Sri Lanka for immediate food and health care needs. Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis in 70 years.

Wong indicated Australia will provide A$22 million (US$16 million) through the World Food Programme (WFP). Another A$23 million (US$16 million) will be channeled to Sri Lanka as bilateral assistance in 2022 - 2023. The funding is targeted toward health services and protection, especially for women and girls. An additional A$5 million (US$4 million) will be channeled through various UN agencies.

Press release - Minister for Foreign Affairs

G20 Health Ministers' meeting prompts support from Australia on health security

Mark Butler, Australia’s new Minister for Health, emphasized the need for better health security in virtual discussions at the G20 Health Ministers' meeting in Indonesia.

The G20 meeting also discussed antimicrobial resistance (AMR), tuberculosis (TB), and 'One Health' approach challenges. The meeting specifically discussed a Global Initiative on Sharing Avian Influenza Data. Issues under discussion will culminate in a final G20 Health Ministers' meeting in October 2022.

Butler emphasized Australia's investment in its domestic vaccine production ability and its intention to establish an Australian Centre for Disease Control. He also indicated that Australia will establish a major inquiry to review its handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

Press release – Department of Health

News article – Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Think tank urges Australia to re-join GCF given upgraded emissions reduction target

The Asia-Pacific Development, Diplomacy & Defence Dialogue (AP4D) think tank called on Australia to resume contributions to the Green Climate Fund (GCF). The former conservative government ceased contributing to GCF in 2018. The AP4D emphasized that resuming climate funding will build trust among Pacific Island countries, especially if Australia helps to improve access to funding for those states.

Australia’s new Energy Minister, Chris Bowen, committed Australia to a domestic emissions reduction target of 43% by 2030; this represents a 15% increase from the previous government’s target.  He recommitted Australia to acheive net-zero emissions by 2050. He has also restored the role of the Australian Climate Change Authority to provide independent policy advice. 

News article – The Guardian

Press release - Department of Industry Science and Energy and Resources

Australian government seeks to expand closer ties to Pacific with new regional migration policies

Speaking in Suva, Fiji, Foreign Minister Penny Wong announced Australia would allocate 3,000 permanent migration slots annually to Pacific Island applicants. Under this 'Pacific Engagement Visa,' more Pacific Islanders will be able to live in Australia and become permanent residents.

Pat Conroy, Australia’s Minister for International Development and the Pacific, emphasized that migration and cultural ties will be key to the Australian government’s approach to the Pacific region. 

Existing temporary labor mobility programs in Australia already allow significant employment and remittance opportunities to some Pacific islands, but these expanded policies signal closer engagement between Australia and the Pacific under the new Labor government.

Evaluations have shown that skills learned in Australia were adopted in program participants' home countries. A survey by seven academics in Australia demonstrated participants accumulated useful skills and knowledge in agriculture, as well as significant earnings. The study, supported by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), showed that 46% of participants had applied their knowledge on their return home.

News article - Development Policy Centre

Report - Development Policy Centre

Annual 'Australasian Aid Conference' to resume in November 2022 following postponements

The Australian National University’s (ANU) Development Policy Centre announced that its annual 'Australasian Aid Conference' will be held from November 28 - 30, 2022, after postponing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Co-hosted by the Development Policy Centre and the Asia Foundation, the conference will aim to bring researchers together from Australia, Asia, the Pacific, and other regions to cover international development policy, program approaches, and research. It will continue to combine in-person and online presentations. Submissions for the conference will close on August 14, 2022, and the program will be released on Friday, September 30, 2022.

News article - Development Policy Centre, ANU

Researchers call for Australia to improve, increase equitable COVID-19 vaccine access

Researchers from three universities proposed four steps Australia should take to improve equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. These include producing and redistributing more vaccines to low-income countries, supporting an effective TRIPS waiver, helping to build production capacity in lower-middle-income countries, and placing conditions on funding for research and development that make sure knowledge outcomes are shared and pricing outcomes fair.

The researchers noted that Australia provided A$215 million (US$ 159 million) to the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access facility (COVAX) as well as 10 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines. Additionally, Australia funded a A$523 million (US$387 million) Regional Vaccine Access and Health Security Initiative.

An End COVID for All campaign by Australian humanitarian and health organizations argued Australia should commit an additional A$250 million (US$185 million) to COVAX and share 20 million more doses. Australia should contribute these doses through COVAX and not bilaterally, in order to ensure more equitable access, according to the campaign organizers.

Report – Wiley Online Library

South Korea continues to strengthen cooperation for COVID-19 response

South Korea’s second Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lee Dohoon, held a discussion with vice-ministers of the United States, Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand, and Vietnam on COVID-19 response and the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF).

Vice Minister Lee recalled South Korea’s pledge to provide US$300 million to develop and produce vaccines and promote fair access. South Korea, as the leader of the World Health Organization's (WHO) Bio-manufacturing Workforce Training Hub, has begun training bio and healthcare professionals, bolstering the COVID-19 response. Lee also introduced a plan to hold a ministerial meeting for the Global Health Security Agenda in November 2022.

Press release – Ministry of Foreign Affairs (in Korean)

News article – Yonhapnews (in Korean)

Australian, Indonesian leaders affirm climate, health cooperation in MOU

In his first bilateral visit since winning the federal election, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese traveled to Jakarta for discussions with the government of Indonesia. He met with Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo for the Indonesia-Australia Annual Leaders’ Meeting, held in Bogor.

In a joint communiqué following the meeting, the two leaders renewed their commitment to the Australia–Indonesia memorandum of understanding (MOU) on Trilateral Cooperation with the Pacific and renewed their health cooperation focus following the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. This cooperation will be reflected in a renewed MOU between Indonesia and Australia on health.

They noted the urgency of climate action and the need to balance progress towards clean energy with energy security. Action in this area included a new commitment by Australia to a climate infrastructure partnership with Indonesia, involving A$200 million (US$148 million) in development assistance.

Albanese also confirmed his attendance at the G20 leaders' meeting, which will be hosted by Indonesia in 2022.

Press release – Prime Minister of Australia

NGOs launch ambitious campaign for Australia to reach 0.7% ODA/GNI by 2030

A new group of Australian NGOs seeks to build support for substantial increases in Australia’s ODA to meet the 0.7% ODA/GNI target.

The Ripple Project wanted political leaders to support targets in legislation that will eventually see ODA reach 0.7% of Australia’s GNI by 2030. This move would lock in regular increases, which would extend beyond Australia's three-year electoral cycle. The current Australian ODA/GNI ratio is 0.2%, placing Australia well below the OECD average.

The campaign emphasized a survey conducted during the May 2022 election period by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, in which only 13% of respondents wanted to spend less money on foreign assistance. By comparison, 45% indicated support for 'somewhat more' or 'much more' ODA.

The Ripple Project wanted Australian politicians to see that strong support for effective ODA would align with defense and diplomacy measures. The campaign produced a report outlining the beneficial effects of development assistance projects that cause a ripple effect through regions, generations, and communities.

Media Report - Mirage News

Ripple Project report – ACFID

Report (April 2022 budget) – ACFID

Australia’s new Foreign Minister outlines priorities in Pacific region, including COVID-19 pandemic recovery, gender equality

Australia’s new Minister for Foreign Affairs, Penny Wong, outlined her priorities for Australia's relationship with the Pacific Islands in a speech in Fiji at the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

Wong promised a new era in Australia’s engagement with the Pacific, indicating that Australia plans to expand opportunities for Pacific islanders to work in Australia and to expand maritime cooperation. According to Wong, Australia will increase its ODA to Pacific Island countries by a previously- announced A$525 million (US$388 million) over 4 years. This ODA would focus on recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Wong also emphasized the role women would play in the recovery and subsequent economic development of the Pacific region.

Wong also announced that Australia would offer assistance with the development of quality climate-resilient infrastructure.  She announced a new Australia-Pacific Climate Infrastructure Partnership that will assist with energy projects and other climate-related infrastructure in the Pacific region and Timor-Leste.

Press release - Minister for Foreign Affairs

Australian Labor Party wins election; plans to increase ODA

The Australian Labor Party won Australia’s national election held on May 21, 2022. Anthony Albanese will be the new Prime Minister while Senator Penny Wong will step into the Minister for Foreign Affairs role; Wong's responsibilities include Australia’s ODA program

The Labor Government’s election platform indicated it would increase Australia’s ODA/GNI ratio in each annual budget. If the increase equates to 0.01% of ONA/GNI, development spending should grow by approximately A$220 million (US$163 million) every year. 

Labor also indicated a longer-term commitment to raise ODA spending to 0.5% of GNI, though no time frame has been set to reach this level.

The specific commitments made by Labor in the election campaign were more limited and totaled A$1 billion (US$769 million): 
•    A$470 million (US$348 million): additional funding for assistance to Southeast Asia over 4 years; 
•    A$538 million (US$398 million): additional funding for the Pacific region over 4 years; and
•    A$32 million (US$24 million): additional funding for NGOs over 4 years. 

The sectoral focus of the increased ODA has not yet been specified. However, Labor’s general development assistance priorities include poverty reduction, health, education, climate, agriculture, and food security.

Voting in larger cities saw an increased number of Greens Party representatives and other climate-focused independents elected to Parliament. This movement should bolster the Labor Party’s existing commitment to greater climate action. Higher Greens numbers could also provide pressure for faster increases in the annual ODA budget directed specifically towards climate and the environment.  

News article  – The Guardian

Report – Development Policy Centre

Australian opposition party promises additional US$345 million in ODA in lead-up to federal elections

Penny Wong, the Australian Labor Party's Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, announced planned ODA commitments if the Labor party wins in the upcoming federal elections on May 21, 2022. 

Wong committed to increasing Australia's focus on Southeast Asia including through an additional A$470 million (US$345 million) in ODA over 4 years. She also said Australia would appoint a special ambassador to work with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries.

Wong did not indicate a sectoral focus or specific objectives for the additional ODA but said Labor would establish an Office of Southeast Asia within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). This office would be similar to the existing Office of the Pacific within DFAT.

The Australian Labor Party already committed to spending an additional A$525 million (US$388 million) in development assistance over 4 years in the Pacific; the additional commitment announced by Wong was welcomed by the civil society sector.

Previously, Wong also indicated that Australia would adopt a First Nations foreign policy.

 The Greens, a smaller opposition party, have indicated they would aim to increase Australian development assistance to 0.7% ODA/GNI by 2030 – effectively tripling Australia’s ODA expenditure in 8 years. The Greens would focus development policy on global justice and human rights, not on national security. They provided little indication of the sectoral or geographic focus of the proposed increase in ODA.

While the Greens will not be able to form Australia's next government due to its small size, its status as a minority party could be influential if neither of the two main parties win an outright majority in the Australian House of Representatives; the two major parties could look for coalition partners like the Greens. 

News article - Sydney Morning Herald

News article - Sky News

News article - Mirage News

Report - Development Policy Centre

Despite falling short of expectations, Second Global COVID-19 Summit mobilizes US$3.2 billion in new pledges, establishes new World Bank fund

Global leaders pledged an additional US$3.2 billion in new and additional funding during the second Global COVID-19 Summit, which took place virtually on May 12, 2022. The meeting included commitments related to COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX), Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), and the Access to COVID-19 Tools Accelerator (ACT-A) in addition to licensing, reducing the price of oral antiretrovirals, and the creation of a fund to prevent future pandemics to be housed within the World Bank.

A country-by-country breakdown can be found in our recent Commentary

Australia’s opposition Labor Party will co-bid on COP29 with Pacific Island neighbors in 2024

Opposition spokesperson for Climate Change and Energy, Chris Bowen, announced that the Australian Labor Party party intends to proceed jointly with its neighboring Pacific Island countries to co-host the 2024 Conference of the Parties (COP29). The proposal depends on Pacific nations' support.

The proposal also depends on whether the Australian Labor Party wins in Australia's national elections, which will be held on May 21, 2022.

The last COP was held in Glasgow, Scotland in 2021. COP27 will be held in Sharm el-Sheikh in 2022, Egypt and COP28 will be held in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates in 2023. Australia has not hosted a United Nations Climate Change Conference before, and the move would be seen as a significant shift in Australia’s position on climate change.  

Australia has previously been criticized for its reluctance to provide leadership on climate change.

The Labor opposition has set stronger targets than the current government for domestic emissions reductions by 2030. Both parties support a national net-zero target for 2050.

Report – Pursuit

Australia disburses over 50% of bilateral COVID-19 vaccines to Indo-Pacific region

Australia has bilaterally delivered more than 30 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines to countries in the Indo-Pacific region - over half of Australia's 60 million dose commitment.

The majority of doses were supplied to Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, and the Philippines.

Separately,  Australia committed an additional A$85 million (US$61 million) to the COVAX Advanced Market Commitment (AMC) on  April 1, 2022. Australia’s total commitment to the COVAX AMC is now A$215 million (US$158 million).

The Australian Government also committed A$100 million (US$72 million) to the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness (CEPI). This pledge represents a more than 5-fold increase over Australia’s previous commitment to CEPI. Half of the CEPI funding came from the Australian ODA budget and the other half from Australia’s Health Department.

Report - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Press release – Minister for Foreign Affairs

Australia's major parties present differing ODA plans in lead-up to elections

The Australian National University’s Development Policy Centre is co-hosting three forums on international development leading up to Australia’s national elections on May 21, 2022. The Greens, the Australian Labor Party, and the Liberal-National Coalition parties (incumbent) will each present their priorities and platforms for Australian international development cooperation.

The Australian Greens' Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Senator Jenna Rice, and spokesperson on international aid and development, Senator Mehreen Faruqi, presented their policies on May 4, 2022.

Opposition Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Pat Conroy, will outline Labor's position on May 9, 2022. Current Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Zed Seselja, will speak at the University on 13 May, 2022.

The live-streamed forums will be available on the Development Policy Centre’s YouTube channel.

Event: Australian Green Party

Event: Australian Labor Party

Event: Liberal-National Party

Canada commits US$8million to World Bank's Childcare Incentive Fund

Canada, alongside Australia and the United States, launched a new program, the Childcare Incentive Fund, together with the World Bank and foundation partners to support quality, affordable childcare in low- and middle-income countries.

The fund will catalyze at least US$180 million in new funding in the next 5 years to support childcare in low and middle-income countries and provide evidence on the impacts of quality childcare on women’s empowerment. The Fund will match country investments in childcare on a $1:$1 basis, up to US$10 million per country. Canada has committed up to CA$10 million (US$8 million) thus far.

Press release - The World Bank

Australian voters support maintaining or increasing ODA, survey indicates

A survey by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation has found that only 13% of respondents believed Australia’s ODA should be reduced.

The figure came from an ongoing survey, "Vote Compass”, which is being conducted during the current election campaign. Australia faces a national election on May 21, 2022.

More than half of respondents who voted for the current government, the Liberal-National Party Coalition, supported maintaining ODA at current levels; 21% would support an increase.

Of voters supporting the main opposition party, the Australian Labor Party, 54% supported an increase in ODA. This result was consistent with a trend of increased support by Australians for development assistance.

Report – Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Australian opposition party commits to providing more development assistance to Pacific region in lead-up to election

In the lead-up to elections on May 21, 2022, the Australian Labor Party's Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Penny Wong, committed to increasing official development assistance (ODA) to the Pacific Island countries by A$525 million (US$387 million) over the next 4 years; the statement included assistance to Timor-Leste.

Wong indicated that the increase in funding would support the recovery of lost development gains due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under a seven-point plan, the Labor Party also committed to increasing links between defense forces by setting up a new Asia Pacific Defence School, resuming Australian broadcasting to the Pacific, and reforming the labor mobility scheme that allows seasonal workers entry to Australia. The Labor Party would also aim to restore Australia’s leadership on climate action and establish an infrastructure financing partnership to support climate and energy projects in the Pacific region.

Wong has not yet announced Labor’s intentions for ODA to countries other than the Pacific. Her stated preference was to increase ODA, but the Party needed to be financially responsible.

News article – The Guardian