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Thursday, 6 September 1984
Page: 522

Senator SIBRAA —I seek leave to make a short statement on the report of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence.

Leave granted.

Senator SIBRAA —As Chairman of the Sub-committee of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence which undertook the inquiries leading to the two reports on the Horn of Africa and on diplomatic representation in Africa, I wish to thank the Government for responding to the Committee reports in such a detailed way since it has come to office.

The Committee's reports had three major recommendations: Firstly, that violation of human rights in Eritrea be investigated; secondly, that consideration be given to opening a post in Addis Ababa; and thirdly, that Australia open a post in Mauritius. I am pleased to say that the Government has acted on all these recommendations. It has investigated allegations about the use of chemical weapons in Eritrea. The Government's response states that it has failed to unearth any independent corroboration of reports of the use of chemical weapons in Eritrea, although it states there is some evidence of the use of fragmentation bombs. The very fact that an Australian government is willing to make such inquiries on a government to government basis is proof of its interest in human rights. The fact that such matters are raised in this way keeps governments aware that they are of interest to the international community , and cannot be swept under the carpet.

The response states that the Government has studied the Committee's observations about the possibility of opening a post in Addis Ababa, and it has been decided to open a small resident mission there. This will be in keeping with Australia's interest in the region, and our intention to focus Australia's foreign policy towards the Indian Ocean and East Africa.

The opening of a post in Addis Ababa has a number of advantages: Firstly, it underlines Australia's interest in Africa, and our commitment to participating in developing co-operation. Secondly, it will serve as a point of contact with the Organisation of African Unity and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, as well as other African organisations headquartered in Addis Ababa. Thirdly, it will allow better monitoring of Australian contributions to development co-operation and humanitarian relief schemes in Ethiopia.

It should be noted that, as with the establishment of posts in other countries, diplomatic representation of itself means neither agreement with nor disapproval of the domestic or foreign policies of the country in question. As far as the Eritreans are concerned, it will be to their advantage that Australia has a permanent presence in the region. They can be assured that their problems will not be ignored.

The report of the Jackson Committee to Review Australian Overseas Aid Programs suggested withdrawal of Australian participation in bi-lateral aid projects in Africa. There are some dangers in this proposal if it is not properly understood . For while the Jackson report suggests withdrawal in the narrow area of project aid, there is no suggestion of a downgrading of our commitment to African development co-operation and humanitarian relief, training and a whole host of other areas of co-operation. The decision to open a mission in Ethiopia, which has a special place in African history as well as in current Pan African political developments, should put at rest any fears that Australia is withdrawing from its deep interest in the future of Africa.

Another major recommendation of the Committee was that Australia open a post in Mauritius. Although this matter is not addressed in the speech of the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) the Senate will be aware that earlier this year, the Government announced the establishment of such a post. The Jackson report placed the Indian Ocean island states in category one to receive Australian assistance and stated that they deserve special consideration. The Australian post in Mauritius is well placed to provide that assistance.

The Committee, therefore, is pleased with the way the Government has responded to the recommendations and observations contained in its reports over the last 12 months and also the fact that it has adopted the Committee's main recommendations. If nobody else wishes to say anything I would like to seek leave to continue my remarks later.

The PRESIDENT —You sought leave only to make a statement, Senator Sibraa. You have made that statement.