Chapter 7. Australia’s humanitarian assistance

Strategic framework

Peer review indicator: Clear political directives and strategies for resilience, response and recovery

Australia punches above its weight in global policy discussions including on disability and issues related to the Pacific, two key focus areas under the new humanitarian strategy. The capacity to deliver on this strategy could be increased if Australia systematically leverages development funding to address crisis risks, especially in disaster-prone Pacific island countries. Stronger coherence between Australia’s voices on humanitarian and fragility policy and advocacy would also contribute to delivering on the strategy. Overall budget cuts have hurt the scope of the humanitarian programme. However, budget predictability has been maintained, allowing for an expansion of multi-year funding arrangements. This is good practice.

Supporting better humanitarian programming globally and in the Indo-Pacific

DFAT’s new humanitarian strategy, developed after extensive consultations with partners, outlines Australia’s intentions with regard to advocating for reform in the international system, reducing disaster risk, supporting preparedness and response, and enabling early recovery. It also sets out a number of cross-cutting thematic issues including gender and disability (DFAT, 2016). A Pacific Humanitarian Strategy, based on Australia’s important role in supporting its near neighbours (Chapter 1), will supplement the humanitarian strategy. It will be developed with inputs from Australia’s posts in the Pacific including in Solomon Islands (Annex C), and likely will focus on localisation and prevention and preparedness. Separately, Australia has a focus on regional health security for pandemics, an issue of national interest for Australia.

Australia takes its global policy responsibilities seriously, co-chairing the AsiaPacific consultations for the World Humanitarian Summit; championing, jointly with Finland, disability at the Summit;1 actively participating in global debate; and ensuring a focus on the Pacific region, both in policy discussions and in the operations of multilateral partners. Australia is also delivering on its World Humanitarian Summit commitments - including by promoting localisation in the Pacific and pushing disability inclusion in partner programmes.

Opportunities to increase coherence between humanitarian aid and development co-operation in crisis prone contexts

Two strategic opportunities exist for further progress on the humanitarian/ development/peace nexus:

  • joining up policy work on protracted crises with fragility policy and peacekeeping

  • addressing the root causes of potential humanitarian crises in Aid Investment Plans, especially in disaster-prone Pacific island countries, to help build coherence in the overall approach to fragile and crisis-affected situations.

In terms of programming, there are other opportunities for development and humanitarian coherence, for example by integrating surge funding provisions into development partner grants, particularly in the Pacific, as recommended by the Cyclone Pam evaluation (DFAT, 2017a).

Overall budget cuts have hurt the humanitarian allocation

Cuts to the overall aid budget have also affected humanitarian funding, which amounts to AUD 399.7 million for 2017/18, down from AUD 493 million in 2012/3. However, the percentage of ODA spent on humanitarian assistance has consistently remained in the 7%-10% range over this six-year period. The current budget includes two special allocations for Syria and Iraq, totalling AUD 60 million. Although the humanitarian budget has been cut, there is still good forward predictability, which has enabled multi-annual funding to key partners.

Effective programme design

Peer review indicator: Programmes target the highest risk to life and livelihood

Australia is making good progress on its World Humanitarian Summit commitments around the localisation of humanitarian aid; Australia’s approach and experiences in the Pacific will provide lessons for other members as they grapple with how to implement this commitment. The rationale for funding decisions is not always clear to partners or other external stakeholders, exposing Australia to a misperception that decisions are not linked to its strategy; making the links between Australia’s published criteria and funding decisions more transparent would help reduce the risk.

Criteria for funding decisions could be tightened to help increase Australian influence

The 2013 peer review asked Australia to demonstrate how its criteria for who, what and where to fund are being applied to actual grant decisions each year (OECD, 2013). Despite a range of criteria in the 2016 humanitarian strategy2 (DFAT, 2016), it is still not clear, even to Australia’s partners, how humanitarian funding allocations are made. In practice, despite Australia’s development focus on the Pacific (Chapter 1), politicians, communities (especially diaspora communities from the Horn of Africa), and partners create political pressure to spend the budget on high-profile global crises; as a result crises in the Middle East, where Australia also has military operations, and in Africa get the lion’s share – 57% – of funding3 (DFAT, 2017b). Australia’s humanitarian team, in line with their humanitarian strategy ambitions, have expressed a desire to increase Australian influence on the global stage. Making funding allocations where there is clear space for Australia to use its advocacy voice could be one good way to do this.

Good progress is being made on localisation and lessons could be usefully shared with other donors

Australia is making good progress on its commitments towards the localisation of humanitarian aid,4 focusing on building the capacity of local actors and on elevating their role in response on the ground. The peer review team witnessed this in Solomon Islands, where Australia is strengthening the systems and leadership role of the national disaster management office and is actively planning to partner more closely with faith-based organisations that have community reach across the archipelago (Annex C). Similarly, the response to Cyclone Pam involved direct funding to the health and education ministries to enable them to lead the recovery, although the official evaluation found that local private sector and civil society capacity could have been better utilised (DFAT, 2017a). Australia’s experiences with localisation in the Pacific region will provide useful lessons for other donors and the broader humanitarian system as they grapple with how to deliver on this World Humanitarian Summit commitment. Australia is therefore encouraged to document and share its approach and lessons learned.

Effective delivery, partnerships and instruments

Peer review indicator: Delivery modalities and partnerships help deliver quality assistance

Australia excels in rapid response. It has an extensive toolbox and a well-deserved excellent reputation for effective delivery in sudden-onset crises, especially in the Pacific. Financing for protracted crises is both predictable and flexible, and DFAT’s funding is often multi-annual. Harmonising funding approaches across government would be useful, especially relating to reporting requirements. Australia is also encouraged to continue its efforts to scale up cash-based programming. The approach to partnerships varies based on Australia’s assessment of partner capacity and a desire to have greater oversight over project design and operations in the Pacific. Australia could now initiate a discussion with partners about what it expects in terms of results and how the attribution issue can be tackled, especially related to core funding.

Predictable and flexible funding for protracted crises

Australia is at the forefront of multi-annual financing to both UN agencies and NGOs. It offers a good example by limiting any earmarking to results, allowing for flexibility in programming decisions. The Australian Humanitarian Partnership is particularly good practice – a five-year (2017-22), AUD 50-million partnership with six Australian NGOs that provides multi-annual un-earmarked funding for both preparedness and response (DFAT, 2017c). Most funding for protracted emergencies comes from DFAT, with some supplementary funds from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and from development assistance programme funds in embassies. The Australian Civilian Corps and RedR Australia5 provide seconded staff for emergency response. It would be useful to harmonise the approach to humanitarian funding across government, especially with regard to reporting requirements for partners and taking DFAT’s model as good practice.

While Australia remains committed to its Grand Bargain obligations around cash-based programming, it is not yet systematically using this type of response. This will be a focus area going forward.

Australia excels in rapid response

As noted in the last peer review, Australia has an extensive toolbox for rapid response and an excellent reputation for effective delivery in sudden onset crises. In addition to using a range of standard mechanisms, Australia channels funds from its development programme to support local ownership in emergency situations, for example in the responses to Cyclone Pam (Vanuatu) and Cyclone Winston (Fiji). This is good practice and could be extended to allow local development actors to also modify programming in response to disasters. DFAT takes the lead in any response, standing up an Inter-departmental Emergency Task Force to co-ordinate efforts across government that may include crisis response teams, defence assets, consular services, the Australian Civilian Corps, and state and territory resources. There are links with the private sector in logistics management, for example in Kuala Lumpur (DFAT, 2017b).

Apart from the government response, funding is available for response partners, mostly through the six Australian NGOs covered under the Humanitarian Partnership (see above). Australia also has provided substantial amounts to the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF), although these have declined in recent years,6 and some direct funding for multilateral organisations and NGO partners. For example, Australia was among the first to provide funding for the 2017 famine emergency. Any funds left in the Humanitarian Emergency Response Fund at the end of the budget year are allocated to protracted emergencies rather than carried over. Most decisions are made in Canberra. In Solomon Islands, the peer review team heard about prepositioned disaster response supplies and the use of RAMSI assets for disaster relief, but also was told that funding requests were often beyond the High Commission’s means and had to be referred back to DFAT (Annex C).

Experiences on partnership vary and support is required on reporting results

A majority of partners praise Australia for its multi-year financing, high levels of core funding (or at least very soft earmarking), good working relationship with staff (the Permanent Mission in Geneva particularly), and appropriate administrative requirements. Criticisms include high transaction costs and very detailed oversight that can include DFAT-specific log frames and regular phone calls and correspondence around how individual country programmes are staffed and managed. It appears that Australia’s approach to partnership depends very much on its confidence in the partner and the desire to have greater oversight over project design and operations in the Pacific.7 All partners report increased pressure to demonstrate results. This has created an attribution issue, especially for core funding, where it is hard to get a clear line of sight between funding and delivery. Australia could support its partners by initiating a discussion on what it expects in terms of results and how the attribution issue can be tackled.

Strong co-ordination with other donors and the UN in various fora

Australia is the co-chair (with Germany) of the Good Humanitarian Donorship initiative that brings donors together globally in this critical time following the World Humanitarian Summit. It also collaborates on thematic issues, for example on disability inclusion with Finland. In Pacific disaster response, Australia co-ordinates closely with France and New Zealand through the FRANZ trilateral mechanism.8 In terms of UN co-ordination, Australia has co-chaired the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Emergency Directors group9 and is active in a number of UN donor support groups and boards, where it actively works to develop common donor positions.

Organisation fit for purpose

Peer review indicator: Systems, structures, processes and people work together effectively and efficiently

Cross-government co-ordination is working well in disaster response in the Pacific. There is also good co-operation with the Australian Defence Force, which often lends military assets for disaster response. Humanitarian staff see the restructuring as broadly positive, providing more weight for advocacy in international policy discussions. Given the exposure to disaster risk in the Pacific, additional training for Pacific-based staff on humanitarian principles, policy and operations could be useful.

Effective cross-government co-ordination

DFAT has the lead in whole-of-government response to disasters. The Cyclone Pam evaluation found that this structure helped to bring coherence and good co-ordination for Australian efforts (DFAT, 2017a). The Department of Health also is involved in disaster response as well as in pandemic and Ebola health system strengthening and response. This engagement mostly reflects Australia’s national interest but also delivers a wider good to the Indo-Pacific region.

A pragmatic approach to civil-military co-ordination

Civilian and military resources must work closely together, especially in Pacific disaster response. To ensure this goes well, Australia embeds civilian and military staff with their counterparts to develop close working relationships both during and before disasters occur. DFAT staff train defence staff on international good practice including the Oslo Guidelines.10 Australia has been working closely with Canada, the US and other members of the Multinational Planning Augmentation Team to develop an annex on “Interagency Cooperation” in the Multinational Forces Standard Operating Procedures. Together, these efforts help to maintain the good civilian-led working relationships that were recognised during the last peer review.

More systematic training for Pacific staff would be useful

The 2013 integration of AusAID brought the humanitarian team into DFAT, a move that staff credit for helping shore up DFAT leadership on international humanitarian policy and response. Humanitarian staff also have been deployed to major crises including to Amman and Beirut to support efforts on the Syria crisis, and humanitarian staff are placed in permanent missions in Geneva and New York. Humanitarian training is not a formal requirement for postings in the Pacific, however. This seems out of step with Australia’s key role in disaster response in the region; indeed the Cyclone Pam evaluation recommends that staff be provided with training in humanitarian principles, policy and operations (DFAT, 2017a). While humanitarian training is not a formal requirement for postings in the Pacific, DFAT co-ordinates regular humanitarian training at key posts in the Pacific, including for locally engaged staff.

Results, learning and accountability

Peer review indicator: Results are measured and communicated, and lessons learnt

Australia systematically learns from its bilateral disaster responses, which is good practice. Approaches to monitoring partners are customised to Australia’s assessment of each partner’s capacity, which is also good practice. However, Australia will need to continue to strike the right balance between effective partnerships and its drive for partners to demonstrate results in order to ensure that each partner’s needs and expectations are addressed. Transparency of funding decisions and results could be improved to increase accountability and public trust.

Australia will need to strike the right balance between results and partnership with the international humanitarian system

Three evaluations of Australian performance have been conducted since 2013 that examine responses in the Horn of Africa, Syria and the Pacific (Cyclone Pam). Lessons are used in improving performance; for example, lessons from Cyclone Pam were used to inform the response to Cyclone Winston (DFAT, 2017a). Informal internal reviews take place after individual disaster responses and a joint New Zealand/Australia disaster monitoring framework is now being piloted (OECD, 2017b).

In terms of monitoring the performance of partners, the increased focus on results is applied differently from partner to partner. Monitoring is adapted to individual partner issues and capacities – sometimes related to reform processes and sometimes focused on operational effectiveness and/or on the delivery of results on the ground. The monitoring varies from a light-touch process to heavy-handed treatment, depending on the assessment of partner capacity. Australia will need to take care to strike the right balance between the drive to demonstrate results and effective partnerships as it moves forward. Multilateral partners also have regular assessments by the Multilateral Organization Performance Assessment Network (Chapter 2), which they agree is good practice and whose administrative burden is appropriate.

Transparency on funding and results could be improved

Australia uses the Internet and social media to communicate its humanitarian strategy to taxpayers, lawmakers, partners and affected communities. Data on humanitarian funding decisions are not published, however, hindering transparency.


Government sources

DFAT (2017a) Humanitarian Assistance in the Pacific: An Evaluation of Australia’s Response to Cyclone Pam, DFAT, Canberra,

DFAT (2017b), “OECD DAC Peer Review of Australia’s Aid Program: Memorandum of Australia”, Canberra (unpublished).

DFAT (2017c), “Australian humanitarian partnership fact sheet”,

DFAT (2016), Humanitarian Strategy, DFAT, Canberra, .

Other sources

OECD (2017a), “Localising the response”, The Commitments into Action Series, OECD Publishing, Paris,

OECD (2017b), “Provider case studies: New Zealand”, Results in Development Co-operation series, OECD, Paris,

OECD (2013), OECD Development Co-operation Peer Review: Australia 2013, OECD Publishing, Paris,


← 1. Australia helped promote and bring to fruition the Charter on Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities in Humanitarian Action, which was widely endorsed at the World Humanitarian Summit. The Charter is available at

← 2. Criteria include needs, scale of the crisis, national interest and comparative advantage, other donor funding levels, absorption capacity, geographical location, Good Humanitarian Donorship principles, international approaches, and lessons from previous approaches.

← 3. According to the government of Australia, AUD 207.8 million (out of AUD 362.9 million) is spent on global crises outside of the Indo-Pacific region.

← 4. Localising humanitarian response is a process of recognising, respecting and strengthening the leadership of local authorities and the capacity of local civil society in humanitarian action, in order to better address the needs of affected populations and to prepare national actors for future humanitarian responses. Commitments to localisation have been made in the Principles and Good Practice of Humanitarian Donorship (known as the GHD principles), in the Grand Bargain, and under the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. See

← 5. RedR Australia is a Standby Partner to nine United Nations agencies, the International Organization for Migration and other front-line relief agencies. During a humanitarian crisis, a global network of Standby Partner organisations provides additional support to UN response efforts. RedR Australia is the only Standby Partner to the UN in the Asia Pacific. See

← 6. In 2013, Australia provided USD 18.6 million (AUD 19.28 million) to the CERF. By 2017, its annual allocation had dropped to USD 8.2 million. These cuts are in line with overall Australian ODA cuts. Australia remains the 11th largest donor to CERF since its inception. See

← 7. “Australia is the leading donor in the region. We are, if I can put it this way, the largest house on the street. As a consequence, that comes with certain responsibilities”: Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Australian Minister for International Development and the Pacific, speaking on International Volunteer Day in 2016. See

← 8. In 1992, France, Australia and New Zealand decided to co-ordinate their emergency management efforts in the South Pacific through the FRANZ agreement. It aims to optimise their humanitarian assistance during disasters, providing a framework for considering the political, economic and social difficulties that constrain efficient disaster management in Pacific islands. It does not yet extend to disaster resilience. For further discussion see

← 9. The IASC Emergency Directors support humanitarian operations by advising the Emergency Relief Coordinator and the IASC Principals on operational issues of strategic concern, and by mobilising agency resources to address operational challenges and gaps. These are in support of Humanitarian Coordinators and Humanitarian Country Teams. Australia was co-chair in June 2016. More information is available at

← 10. Guidelines on the Use of Foreign Military and Civil Defence Assets in Disaster Relief, the Oslo Guidelines, - Rev. 1.1 (November 2007) and other related civil military documents are available at .