Opinion: A prosperous Asia good for Australia

There is an unfinished agenda across Asia and the Pacific: to provide the basics to which every person is entitled. Australia, which has been an important partner contribution to Asia’s growth and has in turn benefited from its trade and investment links with Asia, has a real stake in seeing this agenda through to completion.

While Asia’s economic star continues to rise, we must not forget that this region is home to the largest concentration of the world’s poor. Amid its growing dominance on the global stage, grim figures and facts abound: 1.8 billion Asian people living on less than $2 a day; one child in every 20 dying before the age of five; and rising food and fuel prices putting pressure on the poor.

Across the world, there are noticeable shifts in the aid delivery paradigm. Providing the right development assistance is not simply about the size of a loan or the number of schools build, it is staffed by well-trained teachers who are instilling in children skills that will support their country’s economic future.

It is about ensuring that staff in local bureaucracies are using resources efficiently to implement education policy effectively. To do this, aid needs to be better managed every step of the way.

In the quest to enhance its effectiveness, the Australian government commissioned an independent review, which reported that Australia had a good aid program and was an effective performer. In response to the 2011 review, the government noted that Australia had long believed in equity for all. They also wanted to know that their taxpayer dollars were making a real difference in people’s lives and not being wasted.

With a 2011 operational program of about $17 billion to deliver initiative across the region, ranging from infrastructure and financial sector development to education programs, the Asian Development Bank (ADB), too, wants to make sure our programs are effective.

We introduced our own development effectiveness report to monitor our work and show us where we can improve. We want our major partners like Australia and its people to know how their money is spent, and that they are working with a transparent organization.

Despite its remarkable economic success, Asia faces looming challenges, including increasing inequality within countries, intense competition for finite resources, and climate change, which could threaten agricultural production and coastal populations.

Governments across Asia and the Pacific, many fraught with their own governance issues, need to take the lead by having the right policies in place to tackle these enormous challenges.

If they fail in this task, there is much to lose. As a key partner in ADB, Australia has played a part in widening the circle of opportunity so all members of society can participate in and benefit from economic growth.

On the immediate horizon, increased support to poorer Asia-Pacific countries is called for in the forthcoming Asian Development Fund XI replenishment.

We seek Australia’s continuing support to fulfill our shared vision of widely held prosperity, stability and peace for Asia, Australia and the world.