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Tuesday, 20 September 1983
Page: 1022


Mr MAHER(9.33) —Some time ago during this Budget debate I was talking about Australia's foreign aid program. Without in any way pre-empting the report of the parliamentary delegation to neighbouring Pacific nations, I commented on some of my observations of those countries and the great merit of our aid program to the nations on our doorstep. Tonight in the few minutes left at my disposal I will elaborate on some of my comments on the malaria problem that the delegation noted and my comments, and conversations and perhaps consultations with a Dr David Parkinson, an Australian specialist whom we met in the Solomon Islands. He explained to me some of the problems and the magnitude of the difficulties that that nation faces in dealing with malaria.

Dr Parkinson was particularly concerned that while Australia had given recurrent grants in 1981-82 for the spraying of DDT in less than agricultural quantities to eliminate the anopheles mosquito that transmits malaria, in the last financial year no money was allocated for spraying. In 1981-82 $290,000 was allocated. Last year there was no allocation. Dr Parkinson, from his observations, noted that where spraying had taken place the malaria problem was considerably reduced. The peak of malaria which is at present hitting Papua New Guinea and all the Pacific nations is causing much difficulty and is the single most important disease. Where spraying programs are taking place the incidence of malaria is reduced. Dr Parkinson said to me: 'When you go back to Australia, tell them that the spraying is at a very low dosage and it is having a beneficial effect'. Spraying is one of the few ways of reducing some of the problems from malaria which is endemic in those countries.

Another matter I want to mention tonight is the educational problem in some of these countries, particularly in the Solomon Islands. I discussed the educational difficulties with aid officers. They praised our bilateral program but they all stressed the need for vocational training to produce young men and women who can work in the various agricultural pursuits in the Solomon Islands and in the other countries that we visited. Unemployment is one of the big problems. The Solomon Islands, having been a British protectorate, as a tradition of education modelled on the British system. Many young people are tested. If they fail to pass what is called the Hicks test they return to their villages and may only have two or three years of education. I talked to various aid officers privately. They were all of the opinion that there was a great need for further vocational training-trade training-and that this was essential if there was to be any long term planning for job creation programs in those countries.

Some members of the delegation visited an interesting adult education centre that was run by Australian Marist Brothers on an island in the western Solomons. It was called Saint Dominic's training centre. At that centre people who were 18 , 19, 20 or older were trained for two years in agricultural pursuits. The Australian Brothers working there explained that they then kept in touch with the former students by visiting their villages throughout the western Solomons. These Australian aid programs are funded by Australian taxpayers and they inspired me and other members of the delegation.

I have raised these matters tonight because, as I have said before, we have enormous problems in this country. We have unemployment and the entire spectrum of problems and needs in our society. Every member in the House tonight has problems in his or her electorate. We all want more schools, better hospitals, better roads, better child care facilities and money to be spent in so many different ways. But we have on our doorstep developing nations which need Australia's aid. They trade with Australia and look to Australia as the centre of their world. As the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands said to us, Australia is the United States of America of the region. Australia must maintain its foreign aid program. It must maintain its contributions to the development of the nations on our doorstep. It must maintain faith with those countries. That is why I have taken the opportunity to raise a few matters that I observed recently in my visit to these adjoining nations.

In conclusion, I congratulate the Government on the policy it has adopted of maintaining an extensive and expansive aid program. I congratulate the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden). There must have been an enormous temptation to prune aid, to cut the program, to make up for some of the difficulties we face with our unemployment bill and the cost of paying the dole. The cutting of aid would perhaps have been applauded in some quarters. But this temptation was resisted and the Government has pressed on with our bilateral and multilateral aid programs. I believe that the Australian people will be proud of what the Government is doing. The aid we are giving to those countries will help them develop, will help them overcome the public health problems and will do an enormous amount to create goodwill, peace and good government.