Australia was quick to launch a COVID-19 response strategy in the context of international development.
Two ministers – Marise Payne, Foreign Affairs and Women, and Alex Hawke, International Development and the Pacific – have noted in the foreword that Australia’s “neighbours are particularly vulnerable to the health of the economic impacts of the pandemic”. They emphasised neighbourhood focus by highlighting that “how our neighbourhood emerges from this crisis will determine Australia’s economic and strategic circumstances for decades”.
The strategy recognises the COVID-19 pandemic as one of the most profound challenges to economic development and human wellbeing in the past century. It also recognises the risks the pandemic has posed to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
Resonating directly to the overarching framework for Australia’s international engagement, the proposed strategy seeks to contribute to a stable, prosperous and resilient Indo-Pacific region in the wake of COVID-19. In an operational sense, the strategy emphasises high-quality as well as flexible and adaptive support to the region.
Interestingly, this strategy has been launched to “encompass both Official Development Assistance (ODA) and other elements of Australia’s economic, diplomatic, trade, security and migration policies, and our advocacy in multilateral fora”.
The three core action areas that have been identified for support are health security, stability, and economic recovery. There is an added emphasis on protecting the most vulnerable, especially women and girls.
On the topic of health, the emphasis is on immediate emergency health and humanitarian assistance to contain the spread of the virus, conducting public health awareness campaigns, supporting local health systems with equipment and training, and facilitating the supply of essential goods.
On stability, Australia will continue to advocate for human rights and maintain space for active civil society in the region. The strategy will strengthen partner states to assess response and recovery investments. Supports will strengthen social cohesion and stability. The strategy also recognises the multi-faceted nature of risks that includes disasters and climate change, which often lead to instability.
On economic recovery, the strategy will support policy-making that promotes response and recovery efforts, private sector resilience, open markets and supply chains, improved livelihoods and inclusive growth. The strategy also provides advice on stimulus packages to keep markets and businesses functioning, and help governments avoid debt distress. It also aims to provide advice and support to partner governments on pathways to long-term economic recovery.