Australia is a founding member of the modern Commonwealth and has been an active participant in Commonwealth organisations, programs and meetings for over 70 years. Australia supports the Commonwealth to promote human rights, democratic norms and good governance among member countries. The Commonwealth’s work in supporting inclusive growth and sustainable development also recognises the intrinsic connection between the security and stability of governments and economic development.
Australia is the third-largest contributor to the Commonwealth budget. We are represented on the Commonwealth Secretariat’s Board of Governors, and its Executive Committee, by the High Commissioner for Australia to the United Kingdom.
Supporting Commonwealth development programs
For Australia, the Commonwealth provides a means to strengthen democracy and development outcomes in our near region as well as in Commonwealth countries further afield.
Through our assistance to Commonwealth development programs, Australia is supporting sustainable economic development, youth and civil society engagement, education, the rule of law and public sector development. We are currently the second largest government contributor of ODA to the Commonwealth Secretariat after the United Kingdom.
- their work aligns with Australia's development priorities—promoting prosperity, reducing poverty and enhancing stability
- work on low-income small states—especially in the Pacific—supports regional prosperity and stability through achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals
- they promote democracy, good governance and human rights in Commonwealth countries
- they help extend Australia's reach into developing Commonwealth countries beyond our region.
In 2019-20 Australia provided an estimated $7.2 million in total to Commonwealth development programs, including funding for the Commonwealth Foundation, Commonwealth Youth Program, the Commonwealth of Learning, Commonwealth Small States Offices in Geneva and New York, the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation, the Commonwealth Youth Gender and Equality Network (CYGEN) via the Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS), and the Commonwealth Equality Network (TCEN) via the Kaleidoscope Trust.
Support has also been provided to the Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy (QCC) via the RCS with projects within Australia funded by Federal and State Governments. Australia is also supporting QCC projects in PNG and Uganda funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR)
$2.5 million over five years to help fund a new Commonwealth Unit in the Commonwealth Secretariat dedicated to countering violent extremism and radicalisation
$2 million to date to support the new Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub, based in Mauritius, to help small island developing and least-developed states to effectively access existing climate funds
$1 million to fund the second phase of the Commonwealth Election Professionals Initiative which helps train election officials across the Commonwealth in more effectively managing election processes. This contribution will further strengthen the Commonwealth's election observation and builds on Australia’s funding of the first phase..
$1 million to the Commonwealth of Learning to support Reaching the Unreached, a project to provide education and training to up to 45,000 girls in Southeast Asia.
Around $6 million to support the Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Trust's efforts over the period 2013-2018 to prevent avoidable blindness and support the next generation of global leaders.
Commonwealth Heads of Government Meetings
Every two years, Commonwealth leaders meet at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) to discuss global and Commonwealth issues, and agree on collective policies and initiatives. CHOGMs also provide Commonwealth leaders with a forum for informal exchanges and bilateral contact.
For Australia, it gives us a substantive link and point of commonality with many countries with whom we otherwise have limited bilateral contact. Commonwealth ministers from a range of portfolios meet between CHOGMs to consider specific issues relating to democracy, economics and development, women's affairs, youth, legal issues, health and education.
In April 2018, CHOGM was held in the United Kingdom. The theme for the meeting was "Towards a Common Future” (see CHOGM 2018 Communique and Leaders’ Statement).
About the Commonwealth and Governance Arrangements
The Commonwealth is a unique grouping of 54 developed and developing nations spread over every continent and ocean in the world. Its membership reflects many religions, races, languages and cultures and its combined population of over two billion people account for approximately 30 per cent of the world's population.
The Commonwealth’s population is approximately 2.4 billion, of which more than 60 percent is aged 29 or under (representing one in three of the world’s young people). The Commonwealth has observed more than 140 elections in nearly 40 countries since 1980. Combined gross domestic product (GDP) of Commonwealth countries is estimated at US$10.4 trillion in 2017, and predicted to reach US$13 trillion in 2020. Half of the top 20 global emerging cities are in the Commonwealth: New Delhi, Mumbai, Nairobi, Kuala Lumpur, Bangalore, Johannesburg, Kolkata, Cape Town, Chennai and Dhaka. Over 3.3 million Australians were born in other Commonwealth countries.
As a general rule, applicant countries should have had an historic constitutional association with an existing Commonwealth member. Membership also entails acceptance of Commonwealth practices and conventions, including the use of the English language as the medium of inter-Commonwealth relations.
The values and aspirations which unite the members of the Commonwealth – democracy, human rights and the rule of law – are reflected in the Charter of the Commonwealth, adopted in December 2012. The Charter expresses the commitment of Commonwealth members to the development of free and democratic societies and the promotion of peace and prosperity.
The Commonwealth is supported by a range of associated networks and interests which include civil society, professional and parliamentary groups covering issues ranging from democracy to youth affairs, labour issues, gender equity, human rights, health and education.
The work of the Commonwealth is administered by the Commonwealth Secretariat based in London. The Secretariat is headed by a Secretary-General, Her Excellency The Right Honourable The Baroness Scotland of Asthal QC PC.
The Secretariat’s Board of Governors meets annually in May to give direction to the Secretariat on major policy issues and to approve strategic plans, work programs and budgets. An Executive Committee of the Board of Governors meets every quarter to oversee budgets and audit functions and make policy recommendations to the annual meetings of the Board. Membership of the Executive Committee is geographically balanced and includes the major contributors to the Commonwealth budgets.