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Wednesday, 17 October 1984
Page: 1884

Senator KILGARIFF(5.28) —I look with interest at the report from the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, entitled 'Australia and ASEAN: Challenges and Opportunities'. The Committee was chaired by Senator Sibraa and Senator Hill, whom we have just heard speak briefly to the report, was the Deputy Chairman. Unfortunately, time has not permitted in these rather busy last days of the Senate a perusal of this report, which appears to be very complete. It covers many aspects of our relations with the countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations and touches on Indo-China. Coming from the Northern Territory, I believe, perhaps speaking for the people of the north, that we have to grow closer to the ASEAN countries than we have in the past.

In the past, unfortunately, Australia really looked to its relations with Europe and those countries whence our original stock came more than to ASEAN countries. For very many years Australians thought they were a part of the European world. Of course, that part of the world is far distant. Our experience in the last couple of decades has shown more and more that we have to be more realistic and realise that our future is with the ASEAN group. Whether we are looking at defence or trade, it is quite apparent that we must be much more aware of our relationship with ASEAN countries. If one takes a radius from Darwin of, say, 200, 300, 400 or 500 miles, one sees that it is closer to very many South East Asian cities than it is to other Australian cities. We now have a very significant contact with the people to the north, which, I believe, is developing reasonably well. With this in mind, and from what I have seen from this report, I believe we must make a much closer study of it and take many more of its recommendations to heart.

Recently-in June and July-I had the opportunity of travelling with the official delegation from the House of Representatives and the Senate, led by Senator Robertson, the Government Whip, through some Asian countries but mainly through Indo-China. A very big impression was made on me when I travelled through these countries and saw the poverty and the problems that this part of the region has suffered and still suffers. It has been war-torn for very many decades, and immense problems exist now. One can see no answer to the vast problems that beset this part of South East Asia, which we must recognise because we live so close to these countries. I speak of the countries that are so war-torn. There is continual fighting and there is the influence of the major powers. In Vietnam we see considerable Soviet influence. We see the battle of the Vietnamese to uplift their standard of living and to increase their food production in an effort to feed their population adequately. I believe that at the same time they are looking, if possible, to have closer links with other countries such as Australia.

Laos is an extremely poor country. Australia has links with the Laotian people also. Their population has decreased very greatly. There is a vast refugee problem there and very many people are fleeing the country. Kampuchea is a most pitiful country. It is only four or five years since it came out of the period of Pol Pot. I doubt that many Australians realise the misery suffered by and the extent of the massacre of the people of Kampuchea. At a very conservative estimate, almost 50 per cent of its population-some 2 million people-would have been killed in that period of approximately four years when Pol Pot was on the rampage. Because of the vast massacre of the Kampuchean people, I think hardly a family in that country would not have suffered. At one place I was able to see the pits, which have just been opened up, where the victims of Pol Pot were buried after removal from the elimination camps. At one place I saw a heap of some 6,000 to 7,000 skulls. Several of the skulls were very badly damaged and it was impossible to walk through that area without walking on fragments of clothing, teeth and bone. There is the problem on the Thai border of refugee camps. I spent some time in the interim refugee camps where there is extreme poverty and where the inmates live under extremely poor conditions. Thousands of refugees are crowded into these camps.

One could go on speaking of these matters but, in the very brief time available to me, not really having had the time to absorb this report, I shall just indicate some of my feelings on them. Having had this brief period in Indo-China and having seen thousands of refugees on the move through those countries, looking for peace and for some future for themselves and their children, I believe that we must realise that Australia has certain responsibilities as it is part of the South East Asian region. Whether we like it or not, tens of thousands of refugees are still on the move. They will be seeking another homeland. The movement of refugees out of Indo-China is not finished. It will continue because of the strife there, and such countries as Australia will continue to be called upon time and again to give some assistance and to provide a haven for some of these people. I believe that we have the responsibility to accept and assist these people.

Time does not permit me to go into the situation that Senator Hill has just described. He was talking about students from the Asian countries and Indo-China coming to Australia. If we want to have a real future with the Asian countries and Indo-China we must accept those students into our universities and colleges.

Question resolved in the affirmative.