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Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 2905


Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Resources and Energy)(5.18) —The environmental issues were pretty well canvassed in the Estimates committee discussion on 23 September. A number of specific projects under the multilateral auspices of the World Bank, et cetera, were the subject of reference there, and have been again by Senator Vigor today. The departmental officers were able to say only that they would seek the information in question from the agencies concerned, particularly the World Bank. They have advised the Senate, in supplementary material that has been tabled, that the information required has been sought from the World Bank. Clearly, it is not yet to hand or Senator Vigor would have been advised.

As to bilateral aid arrangements, there are no general environmental guidelines in existence. But I am assured that environmental factors and related questions of social impact are taken into account along with other factors in the appraisal and evaluation of any project. It may be that there has been some insensitivity in some respects in the past in some locations. If so, I am sure that the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) will be only too happy to respond to a detailed question put on notice about any such project. The general situation is as I have described it.

On the question of the border crossers from Irian Jaya, which is the terminology the Government would prefer to adopt, recognising the sovereignty in question, rather than West Papua-although we acknowledge that some people think otherwise-the basic situation is that the Government regards this as a problem properly to be resolved in the first instance as between the governments of Indonesia and Papua New Guinea with the advice and assistance, physical and otherwise, of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Australia has not yet been asked to assist in any particular way in a resettlement context so far as I am aware. We certainly have been contributing assistance-to date, something like $3m-to the UNHCR's relief efforts in Papua New Guinea. During 1986-87 we will be providing another $1m for that purpose.

We acknowledge the strain that is being placed on the Papua New Guinea Budget, not to mention the difficult policy problems it is causing for that Government. We are doing our best to assist in a way that is appropriate as between sovereign governments. There is some sort of implicit suggestion, I fear, in Senator Vigor's remarks that Australia has some sort of responsibility to tear in and generally throw its weight around, gobble up refugees and settle them in Australia, or rush around the Pacific finding Melanesian or other appropriate locations for the refugees in question. We do not operate like that. It is a difficult problem but it is a problem for Papua New Guinea to solve in the first instance in the way that it wants to solve it. I know from my visits there in the last year-I have been there a couple of times-that it is doing its best to wrestle with it. Beyond that, there is not very much more I can say except that it is a situation we are certainly keeping a close and sympathetic eye upon. To the extent that we are asked to take any action in the future, we will sympathetically consider such a request from the Papua New Guinea Government.