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Monday, 18 October 1999
Page: 11759

Mrs MOYLAN (5:19 PM) —I rise also to speak to this motion because it was indeed a tragic event on 24 July this year when Air Fiji flight 121 crashed into the remote mountain range, with 17 people including six Australians and a New Zealander losing their lives. Ray Lloyd and Clare Bleakley, who worked for AusAID, and Peter Yong and Dr Christopher Kohlenberg, who I believe were contracted to work for AusAID, were amongst those who lost their lives in this tragic accident. Today we are here to remember them and to express our deepest sympathy to their families, their friends and their work colleagues.

People working for AusAID are found in many parts of the world, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. Often they are working in isolated communities with very few of the comforts that most of us take for granted. I met some of those aid workers when I was an observer during the Indonesian elections. I had the privilege of working with two AusAID officers in the East Kalamantan region. Both of them were fluent in the language and one had spent time living and working in a village on a rice program. I was really impressed with the knowledge and dedication they had to their work. They had made a very significant contribution to the success of the observer team.

When I was in Tibet earlier this year, I met aid workers in Xigaze, one of the remote parts of Tibet. Again, they were living in isolation but doing wonderful work to improve the quality of life for people in that region.

Today this motion specifically commends the work of AusAID in the South Pacific, especially in the area relating to population and development issues. The island nations of the Pacific have always faced the problems of isolation, limited natural resources and a reliance on exports. Population increases and lack of or ageing infrastructure place many of these communities under considerable pressure. These factors, combined with natural disasters and health threats due to parasitic and infectious diseases endemic to this region, highlight the vulnerability of people living in these areas.

Australians have always had very strong ties with the Pacific, and the Australian government have been responsive to the specific needs of the island nations. They have been responsive through the provision of aid for primary health care, education and training. Despite the great progress that has been made in many of these areas over a very long period of time, the needs continue to be substantial.

The aim of our aid program is to assist the small nations to become self-sufficient and to help overcome the severe shortage of trained personnel to fill key positions within their communities. That is one of the critical needs of the island nations. I listened with interest to my colleague across the chamber and agree with him that it is important that we have long-term projects because these are not short-term problems; these are long-term problems for many of the people who live in this area. I believe that the government are well aware of that and they have put into place programs that will address the long-term needs.

The aim, as I said, of this program is to assist these small nations to become self-sufficient and to help them to cope better in the longer term. Unemployment, shortage of food, and lack of educational opportunities are problems that can affect several generations, entrenching the cycle of poverty and all the difficulties and heartache that extreme poverty engenders. Australia's aid programs have been targeted to try to address these kinds of problems over the long term. They have been targeted at a number of different levels designed in a way which ensures the creation of practical and durable programs that can provide lasting improvements in the quality of life of people living in the island nations of the Pacific and can be responsive also to the emergencies because these are nations that are often afflicted by weather conditions and other conditions such as natural disasters which are not preventable but which unleash a torrent of heartache and problems for many of the residents in that region. So Australia's programs ought to also be responsive to those unforeseen disasters that do occur from time to time.

In the Pacific the focus of the Australian aid program is on five key areas: health, economic reform and governance, education and training, environment and natural resource management, and private sector development. All of these are critical elements of communities being able to have sustainable development and a sustainable economy that will in the long term address some of the social and economic issues that beset them.

I thought it was a bit unfortunate that in drafting the last part of the motion, the third part of the motion, the member did not perhaps take enough time to acquaint himself with the government program and also with the funding that is available. Perhaps the inclusion of the third part of the motion was unnecessary.

The Australian people through the government will provide $1.5 billion in development assistance for 1999-2000. This is an increase of $22 million over the last year's budget and it maintains the aid budget in real terms. Australia's gross national product ratio in 1999-2000 will be 0.25 per cent. This places Australia above the latest 1997 average of donor countries of 0.22 per cent. In fact, as the member quite rightly pointed out to the House, Australia is one of the most generous contributors of any nation in the world to the Pacific islands.

The Asia-Pacific region continues to be a very high priority for aid funding and will benefit from the government's `Better aid for a better future' policy, which was announced by the minister not so long ago. This is aimed at reducing poverty and achieving sustainable development. That is what it is all about, and it is a very good policy. The estimated aid for the Pacific area in 1999-2000 is $136.9 million in addition to an estimated budget of $328.9 million for assistance to Papua New Guinea. In fact, Australia, as I said, is one of the largest donors, as my colleague has already acknowledged, to the island nations and it has to be remembered that, aside from specific development assistance, Australia contributes in many other ways to many other institutions which are important to the fabric of these societies.

Administering these programs is a very dedicated group of officers working for AusAID out in the field. They are quietly going about their work. They are the unsung heroes and they are improving the quality of life for so many people. Sometimes they work in isolation in fairly tough physical environments and today we specifically speak in this House to commend that work—the work of AusAID officers in the South Pacific—and to remember Ray Lloyd, Clare Bleakley, Peter Yong and Dr Christopher Kohlenberg, who lost their lives so tragically in the course of their work. Once again, may I convey my sincere condolences to the families, the friends and the workmates of those officers who so tragically lost their lives and may their life's work be an inspiration to those who come after them to continue to carry out that important work in the Asia-Pacific and in other parts of the world that clearly are neighbours to the Australian community.