Australia's Foreign Aid Dilemma: Humanitarian aspirations confront democratic legitimacy, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Australia's Foreign Aid Dilemma

Humanitarian aspirations confront democratic legitimacy, 1st Edition

By Jack Corbett


214 pages | 6 B/W Illus.

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The Australian aid program faces a fundamental dilemma: how, in the absence of deep popular support, should it generate the political legitimacy required to safeguard its budget and administering institution?

Australia’s Foreign Aid Dilemma tells the story of the actors who have grappled with this question over 40 years. It draws on extensive interviews and archival material to uncover how 'court politics' shapes both aid policy and administration. The lesson for scholars and practitioners is that any holistic understanding of the development enterprise must account for the complex relationship between the aid program of individual governments and the domestic political and bureaucratic contexts in which it is embedded. If the way funding is administered shapes development outcomes, then understanding the 'court politics' of aid matters.

This comprehensive text will be of considerable interest to scholars and students of politics and foreign policy as well as development professionals in Australia and across the world.


"A brilliant analysis of the history of Australia's dilemmas in managing development aid. This is outstanding scholarship, an imaginative approach through the lens of 'court politics', and an invaluable guide for policymakers, practitioners in the field and anyone interested in the alleviation of global poverty." – Philip Flood, AO, former Director General of AusAID and Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Australia

"This book is so much more than a history of Australia's development assistance policies and agencies. It is an enthralling account of the Canberra "court politics" that shape policies and the fates of agencies, a sophisticated commentary on the global evolution of development policy, and a challenging account of the roles that aid play in foreign policy." – Professor of International Affairs and Dean of the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University, Australia

"While there is a considerable body of research on the dilemmas faced by aid workers in aid receiving nations, little or no empirical investigation exists on the dilemmas faced by the same professionals when working with their own governments or citizens. This timely book presents a fascinating and factual account of the evolution of the Australian donor administration and aid program and highlights the dilemmas faced by aid workers when the democratic realities of their country become irreconcilable with their humanitarian objectives." – Mihir Bhatt, founder and director of the All India Disaster Mitigation Institute, India

Table of Contents



Part One

1. The Post-War Period and the Whitlam Government

2. The Fraser Government

3. The Hawke-Keating Governments

4. The Howard Government

5. The Rudd-Gillard Governments

6. The Abbott-Turnbull Governments 

Part Two

7. The National Story and Policy Legitimacy

8. Professionalisation and Technical Legitimacy

9. Managing Risk and Administrative Legitimacy


About the Author

Jack Corbett is Associate Professor of Politics at the University of Southampton, UK; Honorary Associate Professor at the Australian National University’s Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs; and Adjunct Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Governance and Public Policy, Griffith University, Australia.

About the Series

Routledge Humanitarian Studies

The Routledge Humanitarian Studies series in collaboration with the International Humanitarian Studies Association (IHSA) takes a comprehensive approach to the growing field of expertise that is humanitarian studies. This field is concerned with humanitarian crises caused by natural disaster, conflict or political instability and deals with the study of how humanitarian crises evolve, how they affect people and their institutions and societies, and the responses they trigger.

We invite book proposals that address, amongst other topics, questions of aid delivery, institutional aspects of service provision, the dynamics of rebel wars, state building after war, the international architecture of peacekeeping, the ways in which ordinary people continue to make a living throughout crises, and the effect of crises on gender relations.

This interdisciplinary series draws on and is relevant to a range of disciplines, including development studies, international relations, international law, anthropology, peace and conflict studies, public health and migration studies.

To submit proposals, please contact the Development Studies Editor, Helena Hurd ([email protected]).

Series Editors:

Alex de Waal, Tufts University, USA

Dorothea Hilhorst, Wageningen University, The Netherlands

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Disasters & Disaster Relief
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Developing Countries