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Friday, 10 May 1985
Page: 1776


Senator MAGUIRE —by leave-I present the report by the Australian parliamentary delegation to Mexico and Central America dated July 1984. I seek leave to make a short statement.

Leave granted.


Senator MAGUIRE —The report of the parliamentary delegation to Mexico and Central America has been made available today to the Senate. I thank the secretary of the delegation, Mr Derek Abbott, for his excellent work during the visit of the delegation to that region. I also express on behalf of the delegation my thanks to the staff of the Australian Embassy in Mexico City who briefed us and prepared our itinerary of travel through Latin America. Our staff in the Embassy in Mexico work under very difficult conditions. They service not only Mexico but also the countries of Central America. They have a very large brief indeed. I express the thanks of the delegation particularly to Australia's former Ambassador to Mexico, Mr Kevin Hogue, who is now the Australian representative in New York, to his First Assistant Secretary, Mr Jeff Hart, and to Mr Max Hughes of the Department of Foreign Affairs who accompanied the delegation on its visit through Latin America.

We were confronted by a most disturbing situation in the region. There was military conflict and incursions across borders. It was a very serious situation with disturbing international implications. It would seem that the only solution to the problems of the region is that proposed by the Contadora group of countries-Mexico, Columbia, Venezuala and Panama-which are trying to defuse the military situation in the region and provide a political solution. I believe that most of the problems in Central America stem from poverty and deprivation. I believe that in essence the problems of that region are essentially those of the North-South. They involve the lack of resources in the region compared with other parts of the world. Certainly, I believe that the problems in Central America do not stem from East-West confrontations, as people would suggest, but essentially relate to access to resources. I think it is very important that the super-powers be kept out of the volatile situation in Latin America in order to ensure that there is peace in the region.

The situation in El Salvador was of particular concern to me. A large number of people in the community carried firearms. There was no indication of who they represented or to whom they owed allegiance. It was a most disturbing situation. It is very important that we in the developed countries which have democratic systems of government keep pressure on the countries of Latin America, particularly El Salvador, to ensure that the extrajudicial killings are stamped out and that people's freedoms are not trampled upon by armed mercenaries.

I was most impressed by some of the achievements in Nicaragua. I believe that in a number of senses the Government there had brought in a genuine social revolution. It was not just a political revolution. Throughout the community there were a number of very impressive improvements in the standard of living, including adequate urban water supplies, nutrition and education. They are very impressive achievements.

On visiting the region I was most concerned about the solution to some of the financial and economic problems faced by these countries. These solutions have been proposed by the International Monetary Fund. It seemed to me that everywhere we went we heard the same recipe laid down by the International Monetary Fund for rectification of the economic problems of the region. Those working for the Fund did not seem to have any ability to discern differing environments and economic situations in the different countries. Everywhere the recipe was the same-cut public expenditure and cut state economic activity. Of course, in all cases those who are the most affected by those cuts were the poorest members of the community. I instance only the case of Honduras where some priority had been given in the past to reforming land ownership-titles to land. One of the things in that country which was cut as a result of the IMF recipe was in fact the budget of the land reform administration. That just goes to show how shortsighted are some of the policies laid down by international organisations.

There was a very disturbing finding that the allegedly high priority activity of land reform was one of the first to bear the brunt of the cuts laid down by the International Monetary Fund. In the region there are probably some opportunities for Australian companies to trade more actively. Certainly at present Australia has limited trade with Central America and Mexico. In fact, our trade is almost negligible with the countries of Central America and I am sure that there are opportunities for Australians to trade more profitably with that region. It depends on the ability of the countries in the region to finance imports and a higher level of activity in that area. Of course, at present the area faces significant economic problems. With those remarks, I am happy to table the report of the delegation.