National

AusAID graduate program scrapped

For four decades AusAID’s iconic graduate program has been magnet for the nation’ s bright and idealistic young things, eager to make a difference in the world.

ANU post-graduate student Dionne Wong holds a Masters of Applied Anthropology and Participatory Development but her ...
ANU post-graduate student Dionne Wong holds a Masters of Applied Anthropology and Participatory Development but her dreams of using her qualifications with AusAid graduate program have been dashed. Photo: Jay Cronan

But the program has now fallen victim to the Abbott government’s $4.5 billion cuts to Australia’s foreign aid program and experts and politicians say the move will hurt the country’s international standing.

Dozens of graduates who had accepted job offers with the scrapped overseas aid agency and were preparing to start work in Canberra in February have been told not to show up.

One would-be trainee said the move was a "kick in the guts."

Department of Foreign Affairs officials broke the news on the phone to the would-be aid workers during the past few days.

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DFAT, accused of conducting a "hostile takeover" of AusAID, will conduct its own graduate intake in 2014 as planned.

Canberra MP Andrew Leigh said the move was a betrayal of some of Australia’s most idealistic young people.

"It takes in many of our most idealistic young people who are looking to make a difference to end world poverty," Dr Leigh said.

"Many of them have dreamed about working on at AusAID and this will come as cruel blow."

Dr Leigh accused the government of breaking a commitment to protect graduate recruitment programs.

"There were assurances that graduate recruitment programs were off the table," he said.

"The idea that you would rescind an offer to a young aid worker so you can pay for Gina Rinehart to get a tax cut offends most Australians’ sense of decency."

ANU post-graduate student Dionne Wong, who had set her sights on helping the world’s poor with a career in development aid, said she was bitterly disappointed at the end of the graduate program.

"It goes in line with my values, ending poverty and creating change,"

"AusAID was making some great changes and working toward the millennium goals and that was in line with what I wanted do.

"A lot of AusAIDers want to create sustainable change in the world."

Sydney graduate Melissa Smith said she had declined two other job offers to take her place in the AusAID program but had been told by DFAT that she was not wanted.

"I’ve wanted to work in the public service for many years and was elated when I received the offer to join the AusAID graduate program," she said.

"After studying for five years it is a bit of a kick in the guts so to speak, to be accepted into such a competitive program only to have it stripped from you.

"I declined two other graduate program offers that I received at the same time as the graduate offer for AusAID."

A DFAT spokeswoman said it would not be responsible to continue with the graduate recruitment.

"The circumstances which drove AusAID graduate recruitment earlier this year have changed," she said.

"AusAID was recruiting to manage an $8 billion aid program.

"With the program now reduced to $5 billion, it would not be responsible to proceed with the recruitment of additional staff."

ANU development expert Patrick Kilby said non-government aid groups would be the big winners with more talent available to recruit.

"In the short term there’ll be a few disappointed people," Dr Kilby said. "One of the avenues for jobs will be closed off for a period, but then the NGO, who pull in a few every year, will take people."

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