Building Coalitions for Development: Around Australia

Last year, the United States and the United Kingdom made explicit statements recognizing development as a key pillar of foreign policy. In the United States, it was done with panache. President Biden appointed Samantha Power as USAID Administrator and elevated the role to the National Security Council, “to ensure that our development agenda is a central pillar of our foreign policy.” She was candid in describing USAID as a “remarkable force for global progress” in addressing the world’s greatest challenges.

In the UK it wasn’t quite as flashy, but it was a sea change when the government moved from separate white papers to producing a Integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy. This included a commitment that “the UK will remain a global leader in international development” and return to devoting 0.7% of its gross national income to development when the budgetary situation permits.

The value in both cases lies in governments giving a more central role to development. While there are potential risks that should not be ignored – for example, co-option, securitization and short-termism – the benefit is to articulate at the highest level the important role of aid and development in promoting each country’s foreign policy objectives.

In Australia, although there have been some positive signs, they haven’t gone that far. The prime minister has talked to use all the elements of statecraft to shape the world we want to see. There is increased whole-of-government coordination through Pacific Office and in the reinforced investment in Southeast Asia. But the international development strategy needs to be renewed, and at a time when global development aid is on the rise, Australia is an exception in that its development aid is now at its lowest percentage of the federal budget in years. 1970.

We are a far cry from the emphasis placed on development in the United States and the United Kingdom. Is it too ambitious even to try?

In this context, a new initiative has been launched to promote the importance of development in a balanced approach to Australian foreign policy. Asia-Pacific Dialogue on Development, Diplomacy and Defense (AP4D) at support senior leaders from each community to imagine new ways of working across policy silos on issues of common concern.

To some in the development sector, this might at first seem like a threat to the sanctity, history and practice of traditional development. For others, it’s just a practical necessity – given that the challenges Australia and the region will face over the next decade constantly arise at the crossroads of geopolitics, security, economics and Australia’s place in the region. For AP4D, this is the necessary next frontier, to build the consensus Australia needs to invest in and coordinate the elements of statecraft to have influence in a contested world.

AP4D recently released Australia and Southeast Asia – Shaping a Shared Future. Drawing on consultations with more than 150 people across all three sectors, the report showcases development cooperation as one of the main ways to engage with the region.

One area he focuses on is strategic coherence: ensure that different parts of government use their capacities for common international objectives. It’s very difficult for a country to have the various elements of government and society at large working together in a common cause. For example, the Future Fund was critical for investing in businesses linked to Myanmar’s military, contrary to diplomatic efforts to halt the supply of arms.

But for development goals to be achieved in the future complex world, coherence must be found between security interests, economic interests and development issues such as justice and the rule of law.

This means agreeing on clear overarching strategic objectives to guide all of Australia’s international work; then understand the distinct role of each actor in contributing to these objectives. Differences in mission and mandate must be recognized and agencies and programs allowed to specialize in what they do best. For example, while development cooperation can play a useful role in providing flexible and responsive assistance, its key and unique added value is in making sustainable contributions to long-term development and relationship building.

This type of process creates a new dynamic. It builds a development-friendly constituency while breaking down traditional barriers; for example, advocating that a development budget including both official development assistance (ODA) and non-ODA components can fund valuable programs in areas such as peacebuilding and stability in government.

Building future-proof development solutions requires new coalitions. Such coalitions can argue that shaping Australia’s strategic environment is a job for all three elements of governance. Each has a distinct and complementary role to play, applying the right resources in the right combination to be most effective. We need new ways of thinking, which is worth supporting.

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AP4D is hosted by the Australian Council for International Development and receives funding from the Australian Civil-Military Centre. The views represent those of the authors only.


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