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Monday, 8 October 1984
Page: 1361

Senator WATSON —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Is the Government concerned about the reports of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation's lack of budgetary controls, understaffing, overcentralisation in Paris and inappropriate resource allocation? Does the Government intend following the lead of the United States of America and Great Britain in writing letters of concern to the Director-General of that organisation? Is the Government of the view that UNESCO today holds the same world respect that it did, say, 10 years ago? If not, and if corrective measures are not taken, would Australia consider withdrawing its support?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The Government has expressed concern at some aspects of UNESCO's performance. Some comments were set out, for example, in an answer to a question on notice from Senator Jones which was answered back on 27 March. This included concern at certain inadequacies in the Organisation's budget and administration which have detracted from its overall effectiveness and some aspects of staffing policy which were less than fully satisfactory; in particular there was a tendency to leave large numbers of permanent positions unfilled with long delays in the normal recruitment process. However, at the same time Australia does believe and has strongly expressed the view that UNESCO continues to play an important role in advancing international co-operation in the sciences, education, culture and communications. We are certainly not intending withdrawing from the Organisation.

We are, as I said in answer to another question from Senator Coleman back in May on this question, concerned at the consequences of the proposed United States withdrawal from UNESCO at the end of this year. Apart from depriving the Organisation of a major practical and intellectual input, the loss of the United States contribution could mean severe cutbacks in UNESCO's programs of assistance which benefit developing countries, including those in our own region . The announcement of the United States decision to withdraw has prompted a number of wideranging reviews of UNESCO, as no doubt it was partly intended to do, and several proposals for change have been developed. These are being discussed at the September-October meeting of UNESCO's executive board. It is the Government's hope that necessary reforms can be achieved, although a complete agreement will obviously not be possible on all matters. Finally, Australia has participated actively in the review process which the Government hopes will lead to a more efficient Organisation and will enable, hopefully again, the United States to reconsider its decision to withdraw.