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Monday, 30 March 1987
Page: 1742


Mr DUNCAN(10.38) —One of the areas with which I have been concerned throughout my time as a member of parliament both here and in South Australia has been the position in the community of the underprivileged and the disadvantaged. Tonight I want to extend that to address our treatment of those people in the world community who are not as fortunate as we are in Australia. Regardless of the economic problems that face us, our situation is infinitely better than that of many countries, including some with which we have close relations through our membership of the Commonwealth of Nations and of the United Nations.

I raise this matter because I believe that we are failing in our responsibilities to these people. It concerns me that, in the recent Budget, the overseas aid allocation has fallen to a 20-year low in comparison with the gross national product and total Australian Government outlays. The short term reasons for this may well be justified but the folly of the situation in the longer term is also obvious. Australia is situated geographically in the Third World. We have foreign policy aims in the disarmament area and in the north-south debate for which we must have the support of much of the Third World. We are attempting to build up trading relations with many of these countries which are not our traditional trading partners. We have a responsibility to our Third World neighbours, our partners in the Commonwealth and to our developed world partners in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and in the Western alliance to maintain a credible position, particularly in relation to our position in the Pacific. It seems to me that slashing our civilian aid budget runs at odds with the rational and responsible approach to our nation's interest.

Australia's aid budget has fluctuated considerably over the past 20 years. Quite clearly, while our wealth has grown our contribution as a percentage of GNP has been falling. There are a few bright spots, but the trend is quite dramatic. We have never reached the 0.7 per cent of GNP which is the goal set by the United Nations. The closest we have come is just under 0.6 per cent in 1967. From then on it has been mainly downhill with a couple of fillips under the Whitlam Government and then under this Government. However, our contribution has now fallen to only 0.39 per cent of GNP, slightly over half of the United Nations' set target. On top of this the depreciation of the Australian dollar has steadily reduced the value of our aid even further. If this were not tragic enough, the military aid budget, which is included in the defence line of the Budget and not in the foreign affairs line, has increased considerably. It seems to me that we have really got our priorities all wrong. While the civilian aid budget fell by almost 13 per cent in a time of massive problems caused by underdevelopment, famine and conflict, the military aid budget was actually increased by 10 per cent. In other words, at the same time as we are promoting disarmament we are encouraging Third World governments to spend increasing amounts on militarisation. In our own region where our civilian development aid was cut by 13 per cent, our military aid was actually increased by 70 per cent. The Canberra Times editorial of 26 August 1986 put the argument very well. It stated:

The Australian Government should examine ways to make its aid go further. One method would be to reduce military aid and increase economic aid to its less well-developed neighbours. The welfare of the people should be put before the demands of the armed forces. Australia should use any leverage it has through aid programs to get Third World governments to spend more on the welfare of their people and less on military equipment. There is a self-interest side of foreign aid. The better the economic health of the Third World the more likely it is to buy the exports of western nations. Good- will generated by years of aid could help Australia secure new markets.

I could not have put it better myself. I am concerned that we are putting our short term interests ahead of both morality and our longer term interests. I suggest that the Government reconsider our aid contribution in the lead-up to this year's Budget. I hope that notwithstanding the economic problems we are confronted with at the moment we can see a substantial increase in our aid budget in the forthcoming financial year.