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Monday, 22 June 1998
Page: 3736


Senator Brown asked the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 13 May 1998:

With reference to the Australian drought assistance to West Papua:

(1) Was West Papua given top priority for assistance when the Australian Defence Force (ADF) first evaluated the need in 1997.

(2) Was West Papua subsequently downgraded by AusAID officials, as claimed in a Radio National interview; if so, when was this done; and why.

(3) Did Indonesian authorities such as the Irian Jaya Co-ordinating Bureau refuse ADF assistance when it was offered in 1997.

(4) What caused the 8-month delay in getting ADF personnel into West Papua.

(5) How many people are estimated to have died from the drought in West Papua.


Senator Hill (Environment) —The Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs has provided the following answers to the honourable senator's questions:

(1) In late 1997, staff at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta reported information from United Nations organisations, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and non-government organisations (NGOs) indicating that famine was causing deaths in the highlands of Irian Jaya. With the concurrence of the Government of Indonesia, the Australian Government immediately provided funds to support the relief effort being mounted by these agencies. There was no request at this stage from the Indonesian Government for ADF assistance and no ADF evaluation of the need was therefore conducted.

(2) AusAID officials did not downgrade the situation in Irian Jaya. As indicated above, once the extent of the problem became known, the Australian Government immediately provided $1.3 million for the relief operations of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), ICRC and World Vision Australia. In January 1998, a further $2 million was provided to the ICRC emergency appeal.

(3) ADF assistance was not offered in 1997.

(4) ADF assistance with the relief effort was not offered until a Government to Government approach for assistance was received from Indonesia. In April 1998, Indonesia provided the first formal advice that they would accept an Australian offer of assistance with the relief operation. Following his discussions with the Indonesian Defence and Security Minister, Minister McLachlan announced on 15 April 1998 that Australia would increase its assistance to the humanitarian relief effort and this would include the use of ADF assets to increase airlift capacity. The first ADF personnel were deployed in early May 1998. This additional Australian assistance to Irian Jaya from the aid and defence budgets is expected to be worth up to $10 million.

(5) Official estimates indicate that at least 600 people may have died as a result of the drought conditions. However it is likely that some deaths in more remote villages have not been reported to the authorities. As well, the incidence of malaria has significantly increased as a result of displacement of populations with low natural immunity. Recent tests carried out by medical teams from the NGO, Medecins Sans Frontieres, indicate that the mortality rate may be as high as 30 deaths per 10,000 cases.