The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade on Friday released a new aid policy detailing its plans to strengthen partnerships in the region to overcome the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
The policy document states the federal government will reshape its development program to establish a new COVID-19 response and recovery partnership with the Indo-Pacific.
DFAT will focus on three core action areas of shared interests with partner governments — health security, stability, and economic recovery — which will be underpinned by a “strong emphasis on protecting the most vulnerable, especially women and girls”.
With a vision for a “stable, prosperous, resilient Indo-Pacific in the wake of COVID-19”, the framework will guide Australia’s whole-of-government development efforts in responding to COVID-19 over the next two years.
The document states that Australia will immediately support partner countries to respond to the health crisis by delivering essential services, and helping to cushion against immediate economic impacts. The short to medium-term involves working with governments to facilitate an uplift in economic activity, while continuing to strengthen health security and systems. Australia will contribute to stability and economic recovery in the medium to long-term.
The pandemic has revealed “critical gaps in global health security”, the policy says. Australia will immediately focus on emergency health and humanitarian assistance to address this, including working with local organisations to combat gender-based violence and to deliver essential sexual and reproductive health services.
COVID-19 has also put “strain on the global rules-based order”, and will “dwarf the resources we have available”, the document warns.
“We will use all levers of government—diplomacy, trade, economic, and security partnerships—to ensure our development efforts can have the greatest impact and are aligned with our strategic, foreign policy and economic objectives,” it says.
“We will do so through new whole-of-government country and regional COVID-19 Development Response Plans, which will outline shared objectives that address partner government priorities and Australia’s national interests. These plans will span two years and address countries’ COVID-19 response, early recovery and resilience phases.”
The federal government will build “new levels of flexibility” into its development partnerships to better respond to the rapidly changing nature of the pandemic, with a development response that will include contributions from the private sector, education sector, and scientific institutions.
Under the new policy, Australia will apply “newly streamlined processes for program design, monitoring and management, ensuring responsiveness to emerging needs, while achieving impact” to respond to the pandemic.
Foreign affairs minister Marise Payne on Friday said DFAT has been redirecting more than $280 million from its existing development program to “support the critical medical and humanitarian needs” of the Pacific, Timor-Leste, and other partner countries in Southeast Asia.
Payne said the new policy was an “unprecedented pivot of our development program”.
“In partnership with our neighbours, we are responding directly to their essential needs during this pandemic,” she said.
“We are drawing on the full range of government assets to address the impacts of COVID-19 in our region, working with the Australian Defence Force, Home Affairs and other government departments. This combined effort benefits from our deep community and people-to-people links and the strengths of our educational and scientific institutions.”