by John Seed

Since 1989, the main source of funding of RIC's 3rd World Projects has been AusAID's NGOEI (NGO Environmental Initiative) program. As of the 1997 federal budget, AusAID axed this program along with the their "Women in Development" program.

Although there remains another AusAID funding window for NGO's, (ANCP - AusAID/NGO Cooperation Program), the demise of NGOEI is a tragedy for RIC projects because ANCP requires NGO's to raise half of the project budget which RIC is not set up or able to do.

Furthermore, mountains of extra red tape have been thrown in our path and it is clear that AusAID is trying to get rid of small, specialist NGO's such as RIC. Indeed, it was reported that at a June '96 meeting with Alexander Downer, the minister responsible for AusAID, he was of the view that there should be fewer NGO's with access to government funds and that he thought it was too difficult for AusAID to keep accountability trails for so many NGO's.

I believe that this is an incredibly short-sighted move.

* AusAID's own Effectiveness Review Committee found that NGO pro grams were effective and efficient in delivering aid.

* The Coalition's foreign affairs election policy, "A Confident Australia", stipulated "support for an increased role of non- government organisations, both Australian and local, in the delivery of Australia's foreign aid"

* AusAID argue that women's and environmental issues have been "mainstreamed" and ALL of AusAID's programs now incorporated concern for women and environmental excellence. This is false. Please subscribe to AIDWATCH for in-depth understanding of Au sAID's weaknesses. (PO Box 652, Woollahra 2025, 02-2646090).

* AusAID have often themselves made much of RIC's projects, featuring them in their glossy magazines and sending us a steady stream of inquiries such as the Royal Netherlands Embassy in Hanoi who AusAID directed to RIC to inquire about "local partici pation in protecting biodiversity" and various companies wanting advice about how to create successful community forestry projects etc.

* AusAID claim that it costs more money for them to disburse and monitor funds for smaller projects than it is for the grander schemes undertaken by the larger NGO's. The real significance of this point is as follows. Take for example, the PNG carpenter project described by Anja Light above. We were able to support Karsten Light there for the 4 month project including his return air fares, buy all the building materials and tools to build a community centre and school, leave them a water tank and solar panel, all for $23,000 including RIC's administrative expenses.

Obviously, if this project had been undertaken by AusAID them selves or a larger NGO with well-paid employees and consultants, 15% administrative overheads and so on, it could have been done for $150,000 instead and then AusAID's administrative expenses would have been a smaller percentage of the total budget.

* I'd like to close with a little history. I was in the Solomon Islands in the early '80's looking at an AusAID water reticula tion project that had cost millions. I asked the villagers where they had got their water before AusAID piped it in. They said that they had drunk water from the river. I asked them why they needed reticulated water. They told me about a previous AusAID program "Cattle Under Trees" which had fouled the river and made it unfit for drinking as well as ruining the forest.

After hearing a number of such stories, RIC approached various development aid organisations (Community Aid Abroad, Freedom from Hunger etc.) and conservation organisations (Australian Conserva tion Foundation, Greenpeace etc.) and we gathered together in a temporary coalition which successfully lobbied the Senate to make an inquiry into the Environmental Effects of Australian Aid in 1988.

This Inquiry made many criticisms of AIDAB's environmental per formance. Henceforth, they were required to produce environmental impact studies, to obey Australian environmental laws even when working overseas and to establish the NGOEI funding program to encourage environmental excellence in foreign aid projects. AusAID have never been happy with having been forced to lift their game in this manner and I believe that they were only waiting for the opportunity to be able to roll back the clock. They clearly believe that the election of the Coalition has given them that opportunity. I hope that they are wrong.

There is no doubt that NGOEI and WID have included AusAID's most cost-effective and cutting edge programs and have set a standard for delivering quality development assistance that makes a lot of the other things that AusAID is doing look really expensive and badly conceived and executed.

If the Coalition wants to save money they can do so by encourag ing NGO's to continue setting standards for environmental excel lence and cost-effectiveness in Australia's development assist ance programs. They can do this by re-establishing NGOEI and WID with increased budgets and slashing some of the red tape that AusAID are throwing in our path.


1. Please write to Alexander Downer Minister for Foreign Affairs Parliament House Canberra 2600

calling on him to bring NGOEI and WID back with increased budgets and a minimum of red tape so that small Australian NGO's can continue to effectively deliver excellent Australian development assistance.

2. Donate funds. Until NGOEI is recovered, ANCP is the only way that RIC can continue to support these projects. For ANCP funding, RIC has to contribute half of the budget for each project.

In Australia, funds donated to the RIC are tax-deductible only for use within Australia. In the U.S., tax-deductible donations made out to John Seed Directed Grants can be mailed to Earth Trust, 20110 Rockport Way Malibu CA 90265 Please specify that your donation is for RIC Projects or the project of your choice.

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here's a little background …

John Seed and I were invited to India in 1985 to talk about the use of Gandhian methods in defence of nature. We toured widely over three months, giving about 100 public talks, and showing the film about Terania Creek, Give Trees a Chance.  We visited the Narmada Valley, and learned that the World Bank was considering funding for big dams there.  We saw for ourselves the impact of existing dams, and I wrote to the Australian Treasurer, Paul Keating, asking him not to support World Bank investment in the Narmada Dams, due to severe social and environmental impacts.

On return to Australia in 1986, we got together a coalition of groups to call for a Senate Enquiry into the Environmental and Social impact of Australia's development assistance, which was successful, as the issue was taken up by a Senate Standing Committee in 1987.  I gave evidence and submitted a paper for RIC to the Standing Committee:
Submission to the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Recreation and the Arts Inquiry into the Ability of the Australian Development Assistance Bureau and the Federal Treasury to Assess the Environmental Impact of Development Aid, 1987.

From the Australian Senate website on the history of senate enquiries, there is the following:
the Senate Standing Committee on Environment, Recreation and the Arts examined the attention given to environmental considerations in multilateral development assistance and Australia's bilateral assistance program; its report 'Environmental Impact of Development Assistance' was tabled in December 1989. Recommendations in this report were designed to give effect to Australia's concern over the environmental impact of multilateral development assistance and to ensure the adequate integration of environmental considerations into Australian development aid planning. The Government, with minor exceptions, accepted the Committee's recommendations. The response to the report announced in particular the provision of environmental assessment training for staff of the Australian International Development Assistance Bureau and the inclusion of environmental issues and controls in aid project documents. Overall the response described evaluation and review measures to ensure that Australia's aid would promote environmentally responsible development; it also described arrangements to permit the Environmental Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act to be applied to bilateral aid.

One of the recommendations of the Enquiry, which was taken up by AIDAB, was to provide funding to Australian NGOs for environmental projects overseas.  Through all of this, we all realised that it would be useful to have a group dedicated to monitoring and challenging Australian Aid, and you two and co. started AID Watch.

Last Updated: 27 Dec 2012