Our Analysis

Reflections ahead of the 2023 Federal Budget

May 2023

Development is back on the Government's foreign policy agenda.

After a long stint of cuts and a 'temporary' upwards trajectory to mitigate the pandemic under the Coalition, the Albanese government has been vocal in its support for development.

But after a contested 'increase' at the last budget (was it a hard-won increase as Foreign Minister Penny Wong claimed, or was it an overall decline as some in the sector said?), we don't expect significant shifts in tonight's figures - at least not in the traditional ODA/GNI sense.

So while we're not gearing up to celebrate an overall increase nor commiserate over a decrease, there are nevertheless areas we have our eyes on: some strategy, some capability, and some signals of modernisation.

Based on our research and analysis over the last year, below are five things the team here will be watching closely as we roll into 7.30pm. In a word, we're expecting stabilisation. And more news to come.

Happy budget night, folks.

Bridi Rice
Bridi Rice
Madeleine Flint
Madeleine Flint
Strategic Advisor

One | Capability.

Pulse Check experts were crystal clear that right now, Australian development capability is the major hinderance to good development. Those wise to a basic cost/benefit analysis would see that an investment right now in departmental capability is a smart spend. We'll be looking for that tonight.

Money spent here will not only bolster our current efforts, but we suspect it will unlock some imagination and bigger thinking on what we could be doing to meet future development challenges.

Reflections ahead of the 2023 Federal Budget

Two | Partnerships.

Success in aid and development endeavours rests with partners both in the countries we work in, and here in Australia. A savvy budget will need to point to this if not tonight, then in subsequent programming decisions. Shifting direct funding to in-country partners is no longer a case of if, but when. And the wealth of knowledge across the development ecosystem outside of Government is huge- let's see that capitalised on (through research, core funding, partner capability efforts and innovation funding nods).

Three | Leadership.

The major challenges facing our region over the next decade and beyond are development challenges - and many are looking to Australia to see some true leadership and partnership. Will the Government rise to this challenge? 

Given it's unlikely we'll see this kind of shift in the budget, we'll need to hear a very strong public declaration from the Foreign Minister and Minister for International Development when the much-anticipated Development Policy is launched. We're not talking about an occasional comment in a broader foreign policy speech (which was perfectly appropriate in the recent National Press Club address) or another Pacific development speech, but a moment of leadership and demonstration of commitment to making Australian development a high performing, high impact tool of foreign policy.

Reflections ahead of the 2023 Federal BudgetReflections ahead of the 2023 Federal Budget

Four | Modernisation.

A giant leap into a modern development program will take significant leadership, outstanding capability, and substantial funding through the federal budget. We won't see anything like this in tonight's budget - but perhaps an indication that Australia is heading this way? 

We'll be watching for modernisation signs like allocations to research and innovation, new cyber and digitisation offerings, modern tackling of transnational crime, holistic gender equality and social protection approaches, and all-in climate and environment measures.

After tonight, we'll be looking closely at how the new Development Policy is implemented and its performance managed. Hopefully the Policy takes advantage of the head start it was given in its Terms of Reference and we see Australian development pursuing the sorts of connections with our region that we know work best.

Five | Stabilisation.

As we said, after a decade of chop and change, perhaps stabilisation is the name of the game for this Government -at least until we get other areas of development effectiveness in order. Because let's be real - if the aid budget doubled tonight, would Australia be in any position to administer it effectively?

Instead, we should see a strong commitment to a steady increase (ideally, a decade ahead, but let's not get too excited) and subsequent announcements of new policy and performance measures in the coming months.

Reflections ahead of the 2023 Federal Budget

Reflections ahead of the 2023 Federal Budget