Australian Foreign Minister defends foreign aid spending

15:56, May 24, 2010      

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Australia's foreign aid program has been improving and should not be sidetracked by "salacious" reports of waste, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said on Monday.

The government was already reviewing the number of advisers and was working to solve systematic problems in delivering aid in difficult environments, Smith said.

"The point is to do those things sensibly and systematically in conjunction with donor countries," Smith told reporters in Canberra.

"Not to be sidetracked by any number of potentially salacious examples which would always occur in any nation's assistance program when you are dealing with difficult countries."

The amount of the budget spent on technical advisers had dropped from 47 percent under the previous coalition government to about 35 percent, Smith said.

Progress was being made in Papua New Guinea, with more children attending school and roads being extended into remote areas, and Australia should not "throw the baby out with the bathwater."

The federal government in the May budget increased foreign aid from 3.8 billion dollars (3.15 billion U.S. dollars) to 4.3 billion dollars (3.57 billion U.S. dollars) in 2010/11.

The coalition has promised it will initiate an independent inquiry into Australia's aid spending if Labor will not.

Opposition foreign affairs spokeswoman Julie Bishop said she was concerned taxpayers were not getting value for money from AusAID.

"I call on the government to hold an independent inquiry into Australia's foreign aid program," Bishop told reporters.

"Particularly, whether the taxpayers are getting value for money."

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