Overview of Australia's South-East Asia Regional aid program

How we are helping

2014/15 East Asia Regional Outcome
$66.5 million

2015/16 East Asia Regional Budget Estimate
$41.3 million

2015/16 East Asia Regional Total Australian ODA Estimate
$66 million

The Australian Government will provide an estimated $66 million in total ODA to East Asia Regional in 2015-16. This will include an estimated $31.3 million to DFAT’s South-East Asia Regional Economic Growth and Human Security program.

Given our geographic proximity and multifaceted engagement with countries of the region, Australia has a clear national interest in a prosperous, peaceful and secure South-East Asia in which countries cooperate to resolve common problems. Australia has long recognised the benefits of supporting regional processes for promoting peace and economic growth. Our long-standing relationship with the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) was elevated to a strategic partnership in 2014, placing us among the top-tier of ASEAN’s external partners with China, India and Japan. Our partnership and regional engagement is now deep, and covers cooperation in development, economic integration, security, culture, trade, and education.

South-East Asia is one of the fastest growing regions in the world, with ASEAN’s combined gross domestic product projected to grow at 5.4 per cent per annum until 20181. As a combined economy, ASEAN represents over 15 per cent of Australia’s total trade, with two-way trade valued at more than $100 billion in 2014. But despite impressive economic growth and poverty reduction, development in South-East Asia is uneven between and within countries: millions of people still live on less than US$1.25 a day, and inequalities abound in income, education, access to formal labour markets, financial services and infrastructure.

Against this background, Australia’s South-East Asia regional aid program can help countries implement a coordinated response to cross-border challenges such as constraints to trade and human trafficking. There is a growing understanding amongst countries of the region that in some instances, unilateral actions are ineffective and that joint approaches are necessary. The value of the regional aid program lies in its ability to tackle transboundary challenges that cannot be addressed through bilateral investments alone.

Our program is organised around the following two objectives as outlined in the South-East Asia Regional Economic Growth and Human Security Aid Investment Plan.

Objective 1: Enabling regional economic cooperation and inclusive growth

As the region opens a new chapter through the declaration of the ASEAN Economic Community by the end of 2015, Australia uses its South-East Asia regional aid program to support the ASEAN regional economic integration agenda and the objectives of the Government’s aid policy Australian aid: promoting prosperity, reducing poverty and enhancing stability.

Australia directly supports the ASEAN Secretariat’s through the provision of high quality economic research and policy advice in priority sectors. We assist ASEAN Member States maximise the benefits of the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement. Through innovative subregional investments, we help narrow the economic gap between ASEAN member states by supporting trade and transport facilitation and private sector development in the Mekong region, and helping low income men and women access well regulated and affordable financial services.

Australia’s Mekong Water Resources Program helps develop and better manage the region’s water resources for greater economic opportunities as well as to protect the 60 million people that rely directly on the Mekong River for their livelihoods. Collectively, these investments directly address the women’s economic empowerment objective and aid-for-trade2 target of the aid policy.

Investments for enabling regional economic cooperation and inclusive growth

Objective 2: Strengthening regional responses to trafficking and the exploitation of migrant workers

As ASEAN becomes more integrated, the region’s economic prosperity and stability will increasingly depend on the effective management of the movement of migrant workers within and from the ASEAN region. By promoting regular migration within the region, Australia helps divert money from criminal networks, including those linked to people smuggling and trafficking. This will ensure the benefits of labour migration are experienced by both source and destination countries.

We strengthen the region’s criminal justice responses to trafficking by reducing the incentives and opportunities for these criminal activities, and ensure the region’s criminal justice systems are responsive to male and female victims, as their experiences of trafficking and subsequent needs can differ greatly. We help build the capacity of partner governments to promote safe and legal labour migration and combat the exploitation of migrant workers which leads to human rights violations, distorts global markets and undermines the rule of law.

Investments for strengthening regional responses to trafficking and the exploitation of migrant workers

Our results

  • We are helping ASEAN developing countries implement the ASEAN Australia New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA) through a total of 56 activities in areas such as rules of origin, investment and services, competition and intellectual property.
  • Our support to the Greater Mekong Subregion Trade and Transport Facilitation Program has played a pivotal role in removing barriers to trade in South-East Asia, for instance by helping negotiate bilateral agreements to increase in the number of vehicles permitted to transport goods between Cambodia and Vietnam, and China and Laos.
  • To date, GMS TRIANGLE has helped more than 60,000 labour migrants, potential migrants and their family members access advice and/or legal support through the 23 Migrant Resource Centres set up in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Burma, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Our changing program

Changes to the South-East Asia Regional aid program reflect the aid policy’s consolidation objective. By focusing on economic growth and human security, the South-East Asia regional aid program will ensure that our most highly valued commitments to ASEAN countries in support of economic integration are met, and that Australia’s leadership in countering criminal human trafficking networks and supporting stable, legal migration pathways is maintained.

To reflect our revised areas of priority, we are not renewing our regional health investments following the completion of all our current commitments by the end of 2016. DFAT will however continue to make use of a range of mechanisms to address regional health threats and known shortcomings in the region’s health systems. These mechanisms include using policy and diplomatic leverage to influence, including through regional forums such as ASEAN and the East Asia Summit, country policy, strategy and domestic resource allocation for health security. We are not renewing regional aid partnerships with other development actors that do not directly address the two objectives outlined in the South-East Asia Regional Economic Growth and Human Security Aid Investment Plan.



1. Economic Outlook for Southeast Asia, China and India 2014 - Beyond the Middle-Income Trap, OECD 2014

2. In 2015-16, it is estimated the South-East Asia regional program will allocate more than 40 per cent of its budget to aid-for-trade activities, well above the aid policy’s target of 20 per cent.

Last Updated: 30 September 2015
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).