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The origins of Australian aid policy

Murphy, Terence I. (1990) The origins of Australian aid policy. Masters by Research thesis, Murdoch University.

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In 1950 at a Commonwealth Foreign Minsters conference held in Colombo, Ceylon, Percy Spender, Australia’s representative, called for a program of action to alleviate the poverty and economic stagnation of Asia, which he saw as a threat to future peace in the region. The outcome of this call, the Colombo Plan, was the beginning of Australia’s overseas aid program.

The initial stimulus for a program of economic assistance was fear among the Western democracies that communism would become widely established as an alternative ideology in the former colonies, thereby increasing Russian and later Maoist Chinese power in the international system of states. Although Australia initially feared a resurgence of Japanese power, after 1950 its attention turned to South and Southeast Asia where large rural populations living in relative poverty were seen to provide fertile soil for communist propaganda.

Given the difficulty of mounting a credible continental defence, the newly elected Coalition government of Robert Menzies sought security in a system of alliances which would provide security in the short term through defensive treaties with the U.S. and others, and longer-term security through peaceful economic development in Asia.

Although strategic concerns shifted from South to Southeast Asia in the late 1950s and early 1960s, security remained the primary force in determining the direction and flow of Australian aid, the focus shifting again in the direction of the South Pacific in the 1970s as the small island states achieved independence. In the 1980s, the international and Australian debates over the meaning and function of aid notwithstanding, political pragmatism and a growing trade deficit led to increased use of the aid budget to support trade subsidies.

The evidence supports the thesis that, in spite of a widespread public belief that aid was given to support humanitarian and developmental objectives, Australian aid, throughout its history has been consistently used in support of the foreign policy objectives of strategic and economic security.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters by Research)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Humanities
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Robison, Richard
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