Overview of Australia’s aid program to Regional East Asia

How we are helping

2013/14 Actual:
$20.4 million

2014/15 Budget Estimate:
$100.0 million

South East Asia is a region of vital national interest to Australia, reflecting its economic, strategic and political importance. Australia is a major donor to the region, and has been for decades. Through our long-standing commitment to the region’s development the aid program supports Australia’s national interests through promoting prosperity, economic growth and reducing poverty. Over time we have developed effective and accountable partnerships with governments and key NGOs and multilateral partners to implement our investments in the region.

Despite impressive economic growth and poverty reduction1, development in South East Asia is uneven between and within countries. Over 200 million people in South East Asia live in poverty on less than US$2 a day2. There is inequality in income, education and access to services, and gaps in infrastructure and connections between countries3.

Our aid program investments support and contribute to Australia’s broader engagement with regional organisations such as ASEAN, APEC and the East Asia Summit. Australia is heavily invested in strengthening regional institutions and has a strong interest in ensuring that South East Asian countries develop economic policies and structural reforms that support regional integration and maximise growth and development. The South East Asia regional aid program complements bilateral programs in the region (including Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines and Timor-Leste) by targeting poverty and economic challenges through regional cooperation and coordination.

Our regional aid investments focus on:

  1. Promoting regional economic growth and integration
  2. Addressing trans-boundary challenges to health, human security and water resources
  3. Strengthening the capacity of regional organisations, such as the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN)
  4. Leveraging the expertise and networks of key development partners in the region.

Economic growth

Australia’s regional program promotes poverty reduction through economic growth in South East Asia. Through our regional aid interventions we are improving private sector opportunities, investing in infrastructure, driving international competitiveness and facilitating trade. We are also promoting regional economic integration through support for implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community and ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement.

Australia’s program aims at strengthening institutional capacity of the APEC Secretariat, and improving the skills and capacity of the ASEAN Secretariat in policy analysis and advocacy. The program also supports regional institutions to better coordinate disaster management in the region.

Economic growth assistance in South East Asia

Human security

The South East Asia regional program addresses priority trans-boundary human security challenges including people trafficking, ending violence against women and preventing the exploitation of migrant workers.

Human security assistance in South East Asia


Australia works to reduce the impact of emerging public and animal health threats which have the potential to affect regional and global health, economic growth and stability. Our work in health addresses the spread of communicable diseases and livestock diseases and responds to potential pandemic threats.

Health assistance in South East Asia

Water resources management

Water resources lie at the heart of development in much of South East Asia, with over 330 million people depending directly or indirectly on the on the major river systems of the Greater Mekong Subregion. Drawing directly on Australia’s own experience in water resources management, the regional program promotes well-managed, accountable, informed and inclusive governance of the region’s waterways.

Water resources assistance in the Mekong region


Australia is partnering with key development actors in the region to identify innovative responses to development challenges and deliver effective on the ground assistance to those most in need.

Our partnerships in South East Asia

Our results

Economic growth

  • Commenced or completed over 50 activities promoting the liberalisation of goods, services and investment under the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) - Australia Development Cooperation Program Phase II.
  • Helped ASEAN developing countries implement the ASEAN Australia New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA) through 53 activities (23 completed, 30 ongoing) in areas including rules of origin, investment and services, competition and intellectual property.
  • Progressed exchange of traffic rights (Cambodia-Thailand) and road transport agreements (China-Vietnam) and increased cross-border transport permit quotas (Cambodia-Vietnam, China-Laos) through the Greater Mekong Subregion Trade and Transport Facilitation Program.

Human security

  • The International Labour Organisation (ILO) TRIANGLE project delivered training and technical support to over 3,000 government representatives (one third female), supported 21 civil society organisations, and provided support to over 10,000 migrant workers (40 per cent female).
  • Established and supported migrant resource centres providing counselling on safe and legal migration and rights, legal assistance, training and networking in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Burma, Malaysia4.


  • Trained over 3,000 health and veterinary workers, community and government officials to prevent, contain, and respond to disease outbreaks that have significant economic, livelihood, and public health impacts.
    • Those trained delivered effective communication and vaccination campaigns that directly involved and benefitted about 140,000 people at the community level in the Mekong region, which improved the surveillance and response to disease outbreaks during 2013–14.
  • Deployed a risk reduction communication package to poultry markets near the Chinese border in Burma, Laos and Vietnam, aimed at preventing the incursion of Avian Influenza A (H7N9).

Water resources management

  • Australia has played a longstanding leadership role in the Mekong water sector since 1995, and is currently chairing the Mekong River Commission’s dialogue with development partners.
  • Our leadership role has supported close working relationships on strategic water and energy issues with Mekong regional governments, the Mekong River Commission and the US (through the Friends of the Lower Mekong Initiative).
  • Supporting the Mekong River Commission to effectively manage the formal consultation process for the proposed Don Sahong Hydropower Project in southern Laos, building on the lessons of the Xayaburi process since 20105.
  • Supported Cambodia to implement regulatory reforms on river basin management, water allocation and water quality, and helped Laos to improve its hydropower and mining teaching curriculum and adopt new standardised concession agreements for hydropower and mining6.


  • Held forum for NGOs, universities and social enterprises that promoted an improved understanding of how NGOs can access ASEAN institutions, and identified potential risks and benefits for Mekong women resulting from realisation of the ASEAN Economic Community in 20157.
  • Supported an Australasian Aid and International Development Policy workshop with participation of development policy specialists from China, India, Korea and Thailand through our partnership with The Asia Foundation.



1. Average real GDP growth rate (unweighted) 2009 to 2013 was 5.5% for ASEAN countries (plus Timor Leste, and excluding Singapore). The unweighted average is the average of the growth rates over 5 years across the group of countries, and as such, it does not reflect the relativities between the size of each country’s economy. Source: International Monetary Fund, World Economic Outlook Database, April 2014

2. “Table A3: Poverty headcount ratio using normal CPI ($2 per day poverty line) in G. Wan and I. Sebastia, Poverty in Asia and the Pacific: An Update (August 1, 2011). Asian Development Bank Economics Working Paper No. 267

3. OECD (2013), "Overview of development gaps in Southeast Asia: Gaps between ASEAN -6 and CLM V countries", in OECD, Southeast Asian Economic Outlook 2013: With Perspectives on China and India, OECD Publishing. DOI: 10.1787/saeo-2013-9-en

4. Through GMS Triangle: Tripartite Action to Protect Migrants in the GMS from Labour Exploitation program as reported in SEA regional aid programs quarterly progress report, Aug 2014.

5. Ibid.

6. APPR 2013-14 Mekong Water Resources Program



The Friendship bridge built with Australian funding and completed and opened in 1994, crossing the Mekong River and connecting Thailand to Laos (credit: DFAT).
Harvested rice (credit: CARE Australia).