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Tuesday, 17 March 1987
Page: 990

(Question No. 5069)

Mr Coleman asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 19 February 1987:

(1) Is he able to say whether the United States Government made proposals in 1986 to co-ordinate the international supply of advanced medical treatment to seriously injured Afghans; if so, when were these proposals made and what was the response from the Government.

(2) Has his attention been drawn to a report made in The Australian on 26 January 1987 that these United States proposals failed when the Government declined to co-operate.

Mr Hayden —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) The United States Government made an informal approach to a number of countries, including Australia, during 1986 seeking participation in a scheme for treatment of Afghan war wounded in those countries.

In August 1986 a formal request was received from the Director General of the Intergovernmental Committee for Migration (ICM) which had accepted the task of co-ordinating the scheme.

ICM sought the acceptance of patients for treatment on a gratis basis by medical institutions in countries around the world; all transport and related processing costs were to be met by ICM through an agreement with the United States Government.

We believe that most patients were expected to be treated in Europe and the United States. It is worth mentioning that after taking a small number of patients for treatment one country had not sought a second round because of high costs.

The Government declined to support the scheme. Adequate treatment was already available elsewhere and there were significant practical problems in Australian participation, such as distance, language and costs, together with health and immigration regulations when compared with the benefits to be conferred on the small number of individual Afghan patients. Members will already be aware that we have been supporting an Australian Red Cross surgical team at the ICRC hospital for Afghan war wounded at Peshawar in Pakistan.

(2) I have not seen the article referred to by the honourable member but it is quite misleading to claim that the success or failure of the scheme depended on Australian participation.