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Tuesday, 8 May 1984
Page: 1756


Senator LEWIS —by leave-I was also a participant in this delegation to southern Pacific nations. I wish to join Senator Coates, my other colleagues in the Senate-I see that Senator Harradine is in the chamber-and my colleagues in the lower House in thanking our hosts, the governments of these three nations, for the very busy and fine trip that they organised for us. If honourable senators look at the report they will see a schedule in the back of the report setting out the itinerary. As the honourable member for Lowe, Mr Maher, has apparently said in the House of Representatives, every day we were really on our toes. I can assure honourable senators that, when one has a function late in the evening and then one gets up at 5 o'clock in the morning in order to have breakfast and get one's bags on to a plane to leave at 6.15 in order to attend in another country, or another island, a meeting at 8.30 with the premier and the officials, one is really living a hectic life.


Senator Harradine —There were some casualties.


Senator Grimes —You pulled up well.


Senator LEWIS —As Senator Harradine has said, there were some casualties. I can assure the Minister for Social Security, Senator Grimes, that I pulled up well. Our hosts certainly did us proud. I would like also to pay a tribute to my colleagues, the people with whom I travelled. It was an excellent team. We all got on well, notwithstanding the fact that we were probably in many different factions.


Senator Coates —You can say that again.


Senator LEWIS —Senator Coates has just said: 'You can say that again'. There is no doubt that we were in many factions. But I think Senator Coates will agree that we got on very well. I think it was a pity that we did not visit the two small countries that we were supposed to visit-Tuvalu and Kiribati. They were originally included in our itinerary but we were unable to organise scheduled airlines. I think it was a pity because of the south Pacific island countries, the three countries that we visited are quite wealthy. They do not see themselves as being wealthy but, in comparison with Tuvalu and Kiribati, they are wealthy. Although there is nothing like having 80 islands making up the nation of Vanuatu, nevertheless, they are islands of some area. But as I understand it, these other two countries are small coral islands with very deep waters surrounding them so they do not have bays or inlets, and have very small land areas and great distances between them. In comparison, those countries are apparently quite poor. Their future needs must be enormous. Unfortunately, the delegation did not get the opportunity to visit those countries.

Each of the three countries that we visited has received independence in very recent years. Honourable senators will recall that Papua New Guinea, being the oldest country granted independence, was officially granted independence in, I think, 1974 under Prime Minister Whitlam. Those three countries still see themselves as being poor and they press for aid. On page 14 of our report there is a sentence, with which I thoroughly agree, which states:

Few, one would guess, given a proper understanding, would swap what they possess for the 'benefits' of western-style development.

I think that is so very true. There is no doubt that we cannot get through to them that the so-called benefits of Western style development are nothing in comparison with the lives that people in those countries are leading. Nevertheless, developments will take place. Their life style is very much rural, so called subsistence farming. That means that one works when one feels like working. If it is three half days a week, it is three half days a week and that is it. I think we could all put up with that sort of subsistence farming. They have very extended family lives. They talk about their one-talk brothers but, unfortunately, their village lifestyles are breaking down as the young people tend to want to congregate in the larger cities, mainly because there is so little available for them in the outlying villages. That is one area in which there must surely be some form of development which we can provide them with, in particular electricity generating plants of some sort that do not use oil. Those people do not want to import oil, but if we could provide them with some sort of wood-burning electricity generating plants or the expertise to build these things in their own country that would help enormously.

Where they are going has to be their decision. They have moved very strongly along the lines of preserving their traditional lifestyles. They are custom owners of land, preserving the rights of people who have been living on the land for generations in those areas. Nevertheless, they recognise that if they are to achieve what many of them see are benefits from our western lifestyle there must be some exploitation. The problem is to achieve some balance between the exploitation of their land and their people in working that land, and the traditional lifestyle. I must say that at this stage they see less use for exploitation and more need to preserve their lifestyles. If that is their choice it has to be accepted by us, but I point out that they cannot on the one hand say that they want aid and on the other hand refuse to utilise their own resources to the maximum benefit for themselves.

There is, as Senator Coates has mentioned, a continuing demand for aid. They are somewhat critical of the aid which we provide by way of technical services in comparison with that provided by New Zealand. I think there is room for the Government to consider this problem. We tend to send our technicians for a period of two years and then perhaps renew those appointments at the end of that time for another period of two years. This means that the people who are supposed to be trained never stand on their own two feet. So they never really learn what are the major difficulties. There is always need for an Australian technician to continue to provide aid. The New Zealanders send out a technician for six months. After six months he leaves for a period of, say, three months and the trainee then does the job by himself. He finds out all the things he really does not know. Then the New Zealand educator or experienced person goes back and is able to answer the questions the fellow found out he needed to know when he was standing on his own two feet. I presume that the reason we do not do that is that it is inconvenient to ask a technician to go to an area, work for six months, go away for six months and go back for three months. It is much easier to recruit people for a period of two years straight in one of these areas. Our assistance at present suits Australians but it does not necessarily suit the people of these areas. It is a matter we have to look at.

At this stage the people in Vanuatu pay no tax to their Government. Sixty per cent of that country's revenue is provided by way of aid. The balance is provided by way of import and export duties plus an airport tax of $7 per head which raises $1.3m. I might say, there is no desire to pay taxes. There is a head tax of $25 which is collected for local government services and there is much reluctance to pay that $25.


Senator Harradine —People keep their heads down.


Senator LEWIS —As Senator Harradine says, people keep their heads down. There is a great deal of reluctance to pay that head tax and the local government councillors and officials who have to collect it are not very popular. Clearly, that is why the central Government has no desire to impose a tax or collect it to distribute to local government as we do, foolishly, in Australia.

Another matter I feel might interest people is that Radio Vanuatu, which was built by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, as it then was, and of which it is very proud, and rightly so, has a system of providing for two hours each day of personal messages. For example, if a person wants to tell his family that he will be coming home on the next Thursday he sends a personal message over Radio Vanuatu. That means that everyone in Vanuatu knows what everyone else is doing, who is going where, when the baby was born and when granny died. It really is a very interesting way of sending messages around the island. Notwithstanding the loss of privacy, it is also very uniting. The people all listen to this two hours per day. They do not have work to do and they can sit down and listen to the service. It certainly is of enormous benefit.


Senator Harradine —More popular than the broadcast of this Parliament.


Senator LEWIS —It is much more popular than the broadcast of this Parliament. I have just dealt with Vanuatu briefly to give the Senate an outline of the sorts of things we went through. We went into the Solomon Islands. That is a more advanced country than Vanuatu. It has been independent longer, but it has similar problems and difficulties. One of the major difficulties is the water supply. It has a very substantial ferro-cement boat building works. It is building very good fishing vessels out of cement and steel. It seems to me that, knowing Australia's expertise in building concrete tanks for the provision of water supply, ultimately some sort of ferro-cement water tank building facilities may be provided there.

This is a perfect example of some of the problems which arise out of custom ownership. Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands, had a magnificent water supply system established by the British some years ago on a beautiful clear stream providing fresh water to the capital city. After that water supply was developed Honiara became quite a prosperous area and the custom owners of the land adjoining the river came back to live by it. They had not lived there for 40 or 50 years but it became a desirable place for them to live so they moved back to the area. They have destroyed the water supply to Honiara so people now have to boil all drinking water and be very careful about what they drink. That is an example of the difficulty of trying to balance the rights of the customs owners in an area and the rights of the very large population which has moved into and is now living in the area.

The Solomon Islands is certainly a marvellous area. Like Vanuatu, its people are not madly keen on having tourists. They like to confine them to small areas. But it is very keen on developing its own resources. Papua New Guinea is a country which is really booming by the use of its resources but one wonders what will happen as, for example, the price of copper keeps falling. It has a magnificent copper mine on Bougainville and one wonders what will happen to the enormous population now living on that island as the worldwide price of copper continues to fall and fibre optics are being used to replace copper wire.

In Mount Hagen we saw some of the people who were shown greeting the Pope on television this evening. I assure honourable senators that it was most exciting to meet those people. Many of them were living in their original habitat. We met there a leader, the premier of the province, who is a person who really knows where he is going. He wanted to tell us where he is going, and did so in a very strong speech. It was an excellent tour. I thoroughly commend this report to honourable senators. It is the sort of report that they might take home and read while they are relaxing in their homes, rather than considering it in detail as a matter for argument. But all of the information and material is contained in the report, including some of the more difficult matters that we found in connection with the tour. They appear in the report, even though they may not be emphasised.

(Quorum formed)


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Lewis) —I call Senator Harradine.