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Thursday, 28 May 1998
Page: 3392

Senator CALVERT (3:51 PM) —by leave—I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I note the government response to the report of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade as far as Papua New Guinea is concerned. I have a particular interest in that area, being a member of the parliamentary friendship group with PNG. As some of my colleagues would remember, we had a visit recently from a delegation from PNG. I recall, not long after I came to this place, being a member of a delegation that visited Papua New Guinea. The leader of that delegation was a Labor member who is no longer with us. I think that was one of the first times I had been outside of Australia.

As I said, we had a visit recently by a delegation from PNG led by the Speaker, Mr John Pundari. While he was here, both he and the delegation expressed to members of our friendship group the sincere gratitude of the Papua New Guinea people for the efforts that Australia made, particularly during the horrific drought that Papua New Guinea has experienced in recent times.

I note that in this report quite a few recommendations were made to the government, and that the government has responded. One of the major recommendations made by the committee was:

That the Australian government recognises the significance of Papua New Guinea in its foreign policy priorities and acknowledges through the maintenance of AusAID and defence cooperation programs the unique challenges that Papua New Guinea faces in building its administrative capacity, in developing its infrastructure, particularly in health, education and employment generation, in improving law and order and in resolving the Bougainville crisis peacefully.

Those matters should be of great concern to all Australians because, as you would know, Madam Deputy President, Papua New Guinea is right on our front doorstep. It is only five kilometres from Australia, at its shortest point. We are reminded constantly in our committees, particularly our rural committees, of the problems that may arise with quarantine matters coming in from PNG. So I note with interest the response from the government. It notes that in 1996-97 PNG will receive something like $320 million in development assistance and that it remains the largest recipient of Australian development assistance. Those aid programs are there to help PNG achieve self-reliance through broad-based and sustained development.

I recall the delegation that I was a member of back in 1988. Warwick Smith was the deputy leader. I remember we made recommendations to the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Gareth Evans. One of the major recommendations we made related to the fact that at that time the assistance to PNG was given in a lump sum paid into a bank account in Sydney. It seemed to us that a lot of that money was siphoned off by politicians in PNG and returned to their villages for their own political benefit. It was abundantly clear to us as we moved around PNG that other countries were targeting their aid to PNG in such a way that they were giving great effect to their sponsorships. It was not unusual to see hospitals being sponsored by the Japanese government.

We were constantly asked in our travels what Australia was doing. All we could say was, `We have put $300 million into a bank account in Sydney for you to look after yourselves.' One of the recommendations we made when we returned from PNG was that we should be targeting a lot more of our aid to areas that we could see needed it, such as law and order. I recall also—and Senator Carr may be interested in this—that we recommended that members of our Public Service who had expertise in looking after employment projects and the like should give PNG some assistance because at that time—and it still happens, unfortunately—there were fringe dwellers around most of the major towns, people who were unemployed and who could not return to their own villages. It was a breeding ground for the rascals.

Of course, we all know the havoc, the deaths and the vandalism that those people have caused in PNG and are still causing and the effect they have had on law and order. I guess that is one of the major concerns that we as an Australian parliament would have—that law and order in PNG is still a major problem. We should be doing all we can to help them.

So it was against that background that I was fortunate enough to be a member of the delegation, along with Senator Bourne, Ian Sinclair and Senator Loosley, that returned to PNG in 1990 in an effort to assist in the Bougainville peace process. While we were not totally successful, we came back and made some recommendations to the government of the day that certainly helped with that process. I think we identified areas of need and concern.

At that time, in 1990, one of the major concerns was health and housing because of the havoc that had been wreaked on the infrastructure in Bougainville. Their hospital had been burned down. The hospital they had there at the time, where they were treating members of the PNG air force, members of the militia and the local residents, was nothing short of horrific. But, with the aid of the International Red Cross and well-meaning non-government organisations from Australia, they were getting very good assistance and managed a lot of self-help. We have moved on since then and the peace process in Bougainville has proceeded with quite a deal of assistance from Australia.

One of the other recommendations I note also is that in the political process we continue our parliamentary relations. I alluded earlier to the visit here of a parliamentary group from PNG led by their Speaker. The government, in its response to that recommendation, has said that the arrangements that exist between our parliamentary friendship groups are a way of developing and continuing contacts between the parliaments of both countries. The Speaker and the President have even gone as far as to suggest that the parliament here should decide on giving them some assistance to upgrade their committee system.

I understand that from time to time members of their parliament and those who assist in the parliament, clerks and whatever, come here to see how we do it. One of the major problems has been that not enough of we politicians visit PNG to impart our knowledge to them. After all is said and done, they are still basically a very young democracy. They gained independence back in 1975, so they are only 23 years old. They certainly do need the friendship and guidance of our people.

I note the responses that the government has made to this very good report. I hope that these responses are acted upon. There are areas, particularly as far as education is concerned, where I think Australia can play a big role. But I think our major role is in friendship with that country through our political process to help ensure that law and order is maintained and improved, because that seems to me to be one of the major problems that they have. (Time expired)

Question resolved in the affirmative.