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Tuesday, 31 May 1994
Page: 918


Senator GARETH EVANS —Yesterday Senator Watson asked me a question about the current status of the aid program for the Mindoro College of Agriculture and Technology in the Philippines. I have a detailed answer for Senator Watson and I seek leave to incorporate it in Hansard.

  Leave granted.

  The answer read as follows—

Senator Watson asked the Minister representing the Minister for Development Cooperation and Pacific Island Affairs, Senator Evans, upon notice, on 30 May 1994:

Can the Minister advise of the current status of Australia's $6 million involvement in aid for the proposed Mindoro College of Agriculture and Technology in the Philippines?

Has the Philippines Government been able to satisfactorily negotiate with the residents of the land upon which the college was planned to be established?

What is the current attitude of the Australian Government towards the forced removal of long-term residents of the site in order that the project might proceed?

What level of involvement has the Australian Government maintained to ensure that the interests of the local residents are not abused and that Australian aid is not perceived as the driving force for the overriding of the rights of indigenous peasants?

ANSWER

My colleague, the Minister for Development Cooperation and Pacific Island Affairs, has provided me with the following answer to The Honourable Senator's question:

The $15 million five year agricultural technology education project (Agritech) commenced on 1 September, 1993. It is designed to help strengthen the capacity of eleven Philippine agricultural colleges, by training college staff, improving curricula, providing essential equipment and funding income-earning projects and scholarships for poor students.

The Mindoro College was selected as one of those eleven institutions because it has good development potential and serves a poor isolated region where well-trained farm advisers and farmer leaders could do much to enhance the wellbeing of local communities.

There is a longstanding land tenure dispute between Mindoro College and local settlers. While the college land where the farmers are settled is not required for Agritech project activities, the advent of the project has led to an escalation of the dispute.

I suspended assistance to the Mindoro College under the Agritech project, for a period of 12 months, from January 1994 to enable a settlement to be reached between the Government of the Philippines, the college and the settlers.

It would be inappropriate for Australian aid to be associated with an institution where a dispute of this kind is occurring, even though it is entirely unrelated to the proposed Australian aid activities.

I have been informed by staff at the Embassy, who are monitoring the situation, that dialogue between the settlers, the college and the Government of the Philippines is continuing but resolution of the problem has yet to be achieved.

The Australian Government would not support the forced removal of settlers for an aid project to proceed. However, the Agritech project does not require the use of the land which the settlers currently occupy and the project, if it were to proceed, would not in any way involve the removal of farmers from college land. Nevertheless the Australian Government's wish is that the dispute be resolved to the satisfaction of all parties.