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Monday, 24 March 2003
Page: 13295

Mrs HULL (2:19 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister update the House on Australia's humanitarian response to the crisis in Iraq?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for her question. While Australia is involved in military action against the Iraqi regime the government is also engaged, in a number of ways, in meeting the people of Iraq's immediate needs and the contribution we can make to rehabilitation and reconstruction of a country which has been under dictatorial rule for many years. Australia is already actively contributing to meeting the immediate needs of the people. As I mentioned in the House last Thursday, we provided an initial $17½ million to UN humanitarian agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross, as well as Australian non-government organisations. This has enabled agencies to provide urgently needed food, water and health care. For example, as I just mentioned, Australia has contributed to the International Committee of the Red Cross, and over the weekend the International Committee of the Red Cross restored water facilities to almost 40 per cent of the population of the city of Basra. In addition, Australia will supply 100,000 metric tonnes of Australian wheat to support the provision of urgent food aid for the Iraqi people. Australian wheat is already on ships in the gulf. These supplies can be delivered as soon as ports and other distribution points are secured. We are working hard on getting the shipments into Iraq and distributed as soon as possible.

We are also looking to Iraq's future needs and are deeply engaged with the American and British governments, as well as the United Nations, in plans for postwar, postconflict reconstruction. We do not underestimate the challenges, but we will make a significant contribution to the reconstruction effort, including helping identify the best possible interim structures to ensure the quickest and most sustainable transfer of authority to the people of Iraq themselves. We will also assist further with economic rehabilitation, and agriculture is a sector where Australia can make a particularly effective contribution. We, after all, have more than 50 years of agricultural links with Iraq—through the supply of wheat, meat and dairy products—and we have been involved in years gone by with dry land farming expertise in Iraq as well. We have already identified Australian agricultural experts to assist with planning and to ensure experts can be deployed to the region once the security situation permits.