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Thursday, 7 October 1971
Page: 2117


DR GUN (Kingston) - I want briefly to enter a plea for the Government to take a more realistic and humane attitude towards helping victims of the civil war in East Pakistan, especially those refugees who have fled from East Pakistan into the surrounding Indian States. The total amount of aid that has been pledged from Australia has reached $3m, and it would appear from the attitude expressed in the previous debate on this matter in the House by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr N. H. Bowen) that the Government is well satisfied with its effort. I believe, however, that the Government must do a great deal more. Not nearly enough is being done.

The amount of aid provided so far is $3m. I think it should be pointed out that not all of this amount will actually reach the refugees and the other war victims because, as was acknowledged in the speech by the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Sinclair) on Tuesday, a lot of the funds that have gone, is actually taken up in freight costs. I think the Minister has admitted that of the extra Si. 5m that is now being allocated as from this week as aid for the refugees, $250,000 will be taken up in freight costs. So the actual total amount of aid is considerably less than $3m. In view of the size of the problem, I believe that a great deal more must be done.

I would like to pay a tribute to the young people who have been fasting over recent days in support of this cause, particularly the young people who have been fasting outside Parliament House. I think they have done a remarkable job in highlighting this problem, especially in bringing it to the attention of the Government. I deplore the comments of the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) about these people on Tuesday in which he implied that they were not being constructive in their actions. I think the very fact that later the Government announced that it had increased the amount of aid shows that they were being constructive. In fact, they probably partly made the Government wake up to itself but it has not done anything near enough so far. I was pleased to bear the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) rebuke the Minister for Primary Industry on this matter at question time this morning, thereby implying that he did realise that these people were acting in a good cause.

I would like the Australian Government to put its money where its mouth is and give a great deal more. The amount of $10m which has been suggested as an initial outlay is not unreasonable. I know that this amount was suggested by the honourable member for Holt (Mr Reid) when I was with him in West Bengal. At that time I supported his plea. I again do so. I do not think it is an unreasonable amount. But I do think that this aid must be continuing until all refugees are repatriated and rehabilitated. I cannot understand the reason for the apathy on the part of the Government. It is inexplicable. Perhaps an explanation is that it is not a straight-out question of Communism versus antiCommunism. I would suggest that if it were a matter of Communism versus antiCommunism the Government would not be able to get aid in quick enough. We would have Ministers trotting over there every week trying to see what they could do to stop the tide of Marxism-Leninism coming towards Australia's shores. But because that issue is not involved the Government is apathetic. I think this shows an extremely cynical attitude by the Government. In my view the refugee situation there should be required viewing by, if not the Prime Minister, at least the Minister for Foreign Affairs. For that matter, why not have an all-party delegation go there and have a first-hand look, at the situation. If this were done it might change the attitude of the Government to this problem.

I have in front of me tonight some figures which were supplied to me by the Indian High Commission. It might surprise the House to learn how little aid has reached the Indian Government. When I was in West Bengal 2 months ago the Indian Government said that on the assumption the refugees would be there for 6 months - it would be a good thing if they could be repatriated after 6 months - the Indian Government would need $600m worth of aid. I have been told that up to this stage only $170m worth pf aid has been pledged. But the remarkable thing is that only $17m worth of aid has actually reached the Indian Government through the channels. That probably would be enough to sustain the refugee population for about 2 weeks. I am not talking about Australian aid; that is the total foreign aid which has been given. Only a modest programme has been carried out by the Indian Government so far. It is only a life support programme. It is supplying some medicine, food and shelter. With great respect to the Indian Government, which is doing a magnificent job considering the enormity of the problem, I think the target could be set a lot higher because, although the Indian Government is doing its very best, the refugees are falling further behind. They are falling behind because of a lack of food, medicine and shelter.

The refugees are probably getting enough in the way of calories, but they are not getting first class protein. They are certainly not getting enough iron. Of course, they have a very great requirement for iron because they all suffer from iron deficiency - anaemia - and the women all have a baby every year, which means that they have an increased iron requirement, too. There is a shortage of medicine. But even if there were enough medicines, the chronic ill health problem still would not be solved because the refugees are so completely overcrowded that re-infection will occur.

Even if we give medicines to the refugees, the conditions are propitious for them to become re-infected immediately with hookworm, round worm, amoebic dysentery and other conditions which are liable to occur in the grossly overcrowded areas in which these people have to live. Even the shelter that is being provided is not adequate. Conditions must be even worse now than they were when I was there because the monsoons have been continuing over the last 2 months. Even at the early stage when I was there the roofs over these dwellings, if one could call them that, were admitting water. The water was coming through the roofs of these places which were providing hardly any shelter at all from the monsoon weather.

I think that much more can be done. Even if we provide this money, we must recognise that the aims of the programme are modest and we really could set our sights higher. We need to give these people good quality protein foods and much more in the way of shelter. On the subject of medical conditions, we ought to be able to provide better sanitary facilities. I do not know why we could not take over responsibility for SO refugee camps and build proper septic tanks or something of that kind. At least in this way we might be able to make a start towards eliminating some of the chronic debilitating conditions which arc responsible for many deaths, particularly of children, in these camps.

As I said before, I would like to see a couple of Ministers from this Government visit this area. Major-General Cullen, on behalf of the Australian voluntary agencies, did so. I would like to see the Australian Government take similar action by sending Government Ministers there so that they might have a first hand look at what needs to be done and initiate, in consultation with the Indian Government, a programme of assistance. The Government should not wait to be pushed by back bench members of the Parliament or voluntary agencies into doing something. The Government should not hang off, waiting to see how much such and such a country gives to the refugees and then say that it will give a proportionate amount on a per capita basis.

Australia is perhaps the most affluent country in the Indian area of the world. I think that we are the country which can do most in relation to this problem. Think of the tremendous difference it would make, to the stature of Australia and to our status in this area if we gave a lead. People in these countries could say: 'Here is Australia getting in and really doing something'. I take the opportunity to compare the Australian Government's attitude on this matter with its attitude regarding the Indian Ocean. Soviet naval vessels are carrying out what I would regard as gestures in the empty wastes of the Indian Ocean. In response to these activities the Australian Government is prepared to spend $80m on a naval base at Cockburn Sound. I compare the expenditure of $80m for that purpose with the expenditure of $3m not on trackless wastes of ocean but on the reality of 8 million war refugees from East Pakistan in India. I think that we could do a lot better. It is high time that the Government got off its backside and did something.







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