Penny Wong says annual aid to Solomon Islands is 28 per cent lower on average under the Coalition than it was under Labor. Is she correct?

The claim

The signing of a security pact between Solomon Islands and China has added fuel to the fire in an election where national security already loomed large.

During an interview with ABC Radio on April 21, 2022, Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong said the government had damaged Australia’s relationship with Solomon Islands and undermined regional security through numerous missteps, among them making cuts to foreign aid.

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“The government should not have dropped the annual bilateral development assistance to the Solomons, which is 28 per cent on average per year lower under them than under us,” Senator Wong said.

So, has Australia’s annual aid to Solomon Islands been, on average, 28 per cent lower under the Coalition than under Labor?

RMIT ABC Fact Check investigates.

The verdict

Senator Wong’s claim is not the full story.

Australian foreign aid to Solomon Islands was on average almost 35 per cent lower per year under the Coalition compared to the previous Labor government, in inflation-adjusted terms.

However, a major cause of that has been the end of Australia’s role in a 14-year mission to Solomon Islands, which began in 2003 with the aim of restoring law and order after the country began sliding into civil unrest.

This led to a surge in funding that experts told Fact Check was similar to assistance offered following a natural disaster, and which they said rendered the comparison largely meaningless.

Funding for the regional assistance mission decreased under both Labor and Coalition governments before ending entirely in mid-2017.

One expert noted that despite the mission ending, none of the substantial development programs operating alongside it had been cut.

A group of children play at the water's edge with tankers in the background
A sharp increase in foreign aid to Solomon Islands occurred in 2003 as part of a multi-lateral mission to restore order amid civil unrest in the Pacific nation.(Reuters: Daniel Munoz)

What counts as foreign aid?

Part of a nation’s “soft power” toolkit, foreign aid comes in various forms and can serve various purposes, such as the enhancement of national security or the achievement of humanitarian or diplomatic goals.

In Australia’s case, the government defines aid as spending that meets the definition of “official development assistance” (ODA), set by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The OECD defines this as “government aid that promotes and specifically targets the economic development and welfare of developing countries”.

Starting the clock

Fact Check has used 2007-08 as Labor’s first financial year in office, on the basis that it was in power for more than half of that year.

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