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Tuesday, 8 May 1984
Page: 1758

Senator HARRADINE —by leave-Mr Acting Deputy President, I will be very brief because of the time of the evening and because you have covered the situation. No doubt Senator Coates also covered the situation. I am sorry that I was not present during his contribution to the debate. This, of course, was the first delegation from the Australian Parliament to visit Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea since their independence. There had been regular visits by Ministers and Prime Ministers to these countries. There had been visits by Mr President and Mr Speaker. But this was the first official delegation from the Australian Parliament to these countries since they gained independence. They did appreciate the fact that the Parliament had decided to send a delegation. I agree with the comment made by Senator Coates that the fact a Minister did not head the delegation in no way diminished the appreciation that the countries felt.

Senator Robert Ray —Did the leader of the delegation behave himself?

Senator HARRADINE —The leader of the delegation did an admirable job, in my view , in his representations with the heads of government and with the various officials that we met in the countries concerned. He also performed very well in the social events in which one must participate in these delegations, including the bush dances and so on. I believe our leader performed extremely well and received the plaudits of the country people in some of those outlying places.

The general opinion that I received was that Australia was viewed favourably; mainly, I think, because of the efforts of a large number of people, not least of whom were the missionaries and other people who had over many years laboured in the fields to provide education and expertise for the people of these countries to enable them to develop the skills necessary for their economy and the education and other self-help facilities that are necessary for a young democracy. In respect of particularly the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea we were also aware of the fact that over the years our Department of Foreign Affairs officials had contributed substantially to a mutual respect and understanding between Australia and those countries. I feel that in the past-I am talking about five or 10 years ago-we have lost opportunities in regard to Vanuatu. The time frame might not be exact and I do not reflect on Foreign Affairs officials who were in Vanuatu at the time; rather, the fact that I think we could have made friends amongst people who were at that time coming through the ranks in Vanuatu.

Papua New Guinea was, of course, the largest country, with the greatest population, that we visited. I will not canvass the matters that were raised with us concerning aid and the provision of budgetary support to Papua New Guinea. Those matters were raised, and have been raised, with the Jackson Committee to review the Australian Overseas Aid Program. No doubt the Jackson Committee's report will be debated in this Parliament very shortly. I understand that that debate is imminent. At that time we will have to address ourselves to that very important issue.

As you said, Mr Acting Deputy President, the people of the Highlands, the area which the Pope is visiting at the moment, were a most impressive people. It was interesting to note that Christianity has been accepted by the people. They do not see Christianity as being in any way in conflict with the Melanesian culture ; nor do persons, for example, in Micronesia regard Christianity as being in any way in conflict with the Micronesian culture. It is most interesting to see the studies that are currently being undertaken in an ecumenical way by a number of Christain churches into the Melanesian culture. We have a lot to learn, I believe, from the Melanesian and Micronesian cultures. You adverted to this in your remarks, Mr Acting Deputy President. One feature of the culture, of course, is its emphasis on the importance of family life and family ties. We appreciate that the one-talk system does have its burdens. But overall the people to whom we spoke regarded that as foundational to the continued prosperity, or development at least, of all of those three countries.

I would like to mention that we were well catered for and looked after by the various High Commissions in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Reference has been made to the heads of missions in those countries. I would particularly like to state that the people in command in those countries, Miss Jane Craig in Vanuatu, Mr Denis Fitzgerald in the Solomon Islands and Mr Barry Welsby in Papua New Guinea were most helpful. In the opinion of all of us they were experts in their fields. If they are typical of that level of Foreign Affairs officers throughout the world, I certainly have a great deal of confidence in our Foreign Affairs Department to do the job that we in this Parliament and our nation expect it to do.

Finally, I would like to share with my colleagues the vote of appreciation for our secretary who was tireless in getting us to places and making arrangements, Robert Alison did his job soberly and with great efficiency.

(Quorum formed)