The SMH has a story showing how the government has used tricky accounting devices to claim an increase in foreign aid, when genuine aid is nowhere near meeting the government’s announced targets. The biggest spurious claim was a write-off of $600 million debt owed by Iraq as a result of wheat deals made in 1990. I actually worked on an assessment of these deals shortly after this, and it was obvious that the whole thing was just a disguised subsidy to Australian wheatgrowers, who were effectively getting free insurance to cover the well-known risk that Saddam wouldn’t pay. The idea that this constituted development assistance is just silly. Equally bad are payments to Nauru for its part in the ‘Pacific Solution’. Effectively this affair should count as a reduction in foreign aid, since we have exploited the dependent position of Nauru and other neighbours to force them to provide prison camp services to us.
An even larger negative is the $300 million paid to Saddam Hussein by AWB, with (at least) the tacit encouragement of the Australian government. This wasn’t Australian money paid as a bribe. It was Iraqi money, stolen by Saddam and AWB acting in collaboration. It should count as negative aid.