JOHN Dinsdale, a former clerk of a court in Melbourne, is being paid more than half a million dollars a year, tax-free, as Australia's law and justice adviser to Papua New Guinea, where crime and corruption keep rising as aid increases.
Peter Kelly, an engineer from Brisbane, is receiving $433,000 tax-free a year to supervise the maintenance of the 73km of paved roads, 1303 km of gravel roads and 400km of earth roads in the tropical tourist haven of Vanuatu.
Both are earning substantially more than Kevin Rudd, who is paid about $350,000 a year, on which the Prime Minister also pays tax.
Australia's aid budget has soared by 42 per cent since mid-2005. And the Rudd government is pushing to meet an election promise by doubling current aid spending to $8 billion a year, 0.5 per cent of the economy, in five years.
This, in turn, is pushing AusAID -- which employs 914 people directly, 187 based overseas -- to spend almost half of its budget on "technical assistance", twice the average in other industrialised countries' aid budgets.
Much of this is deployed through contractors such as Mr Dinsdale and Mr Kelly. The "implementing service provider" of the PNG Australia Law and Justice Partnership with which Mr Dinsdale works is Cardno, a global consulting firm that recently took over Australian firm ACIL.
Cardno is being paid $137 million to run the program, which employs about 60 advisers, over five years to mid-2014. Australia is giving PNG $414m overall this year.
AusAID is also diversifying beyond its Asia-Pacific focus to encompass Africa.
But although spreading the aid program geographically makes it easier to spend the $8bn, this provides poor use of taxpayers' money, says Jenny Hayward-Jones, director of the Lowy Institute's Melanesia Program. Besides, she said, this thrust "is really motivated by Australia's desire to be elected to the UN Security Council".
Mr Dinsdale said that his contract prevented him talking to the media, but he did not believe his cost "would be out of the ordinary with anybody else".
Mr Kelly, who was previously the top roads adviser at AusAID, for which he worked directly for eight years, said: "I am not in a position to comment on those details."
He has to use his package, as does Mr Dinsdale, to pay for his housing and security overseas, airfares and other needs.
Paulinus Sikosana, AusAID's health adviser to PNG, is receiving $743,000 over two years. Originally from Zimbabwe, where he was health department head, he has worked in seven countries, and AusAID believes it is necessary to pay such amounts to persuade people with the needed skills to work in a place such as Port Moresby, recently listed by The Economist as the third-least liveable city in the world.
The objective of AusAID is "to assist developing countries reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development, in line with Australia's national interest guided by the Millennium Development Goals".
The Australian National Audit Office's latest review of AusAID, two months ago, while positive overall, said that as the aid budget doubled, "AusAID faces considerable management challenges".
"AusAID staff are concerned about workloads and stress levels at many overseas posts and there is a shortfall of expertise in some areas," it said. The office recommends "improved external reporting to make aid program running costs more transparent".
The audit office says Australia has "a tendency to rely too much" on technical assistance, the goal of which is usually "capacity-building". Top of the "key goals" of the law and justice partnership in PNG is "to achieve measurable progress against sector goals".
But Sinclair Dinnen, senior fellow at the State, Society and Governance in Melanesia Program at the Australian National University, said that "crime and corruption is certainly not getting any better" in PNG.
In recent weeks, Chief Ombudsman Chronox Manek narrowly escaped an assassination attempt, a leading ethnic Chinese businessman was murdered, and all the inmates of the maximum-security jail escaped, with only two recaptured.
Dr Dinnen asked: "What are we getting for this money?" What can aid projects achieve "in the context where the whole notion of public service is, to say the least, fragile, and people are operating in different worlds?"
He added: "Capacity-building is such an inexact and uncertain process, and you can't see significant advances there in PNG. We've been working at helping improve the crime situation for 35 years now, and haven't got a lot to show for it. There's a culture of impunity now. You can get away with murder."
An AusAID spokeswoman said: "The PNG government frequently requests Australia to provide technical experts to advise PNG government departments, and approves these appointments. These advisers bring crucial skills that often do not exist locally.
"In order to attract the best people to adviser positions, it's necessary to pay competitive market rates."
AusAID said the positive results of the PNG justice program included revitalisation of village courts and a decrease in the number of juveniles held on remand.
And road maintenance was important in Vanuatu for those in isolated rural areas dependent on transport links.
From The Australian with additional reporting from AAP.