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Wednesday, 27 October 1971
Page: 2623


Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) - I move:

That to the motion that the House take note of the paper the following words be added: 'but the House is of the opinion that the situation in West Bengal and East Pakistan is such that the level of Australian aid should be raised to the equivalent of at least $1 for each person in Australia.'

Any additional aid being given by the Commonwealth Government in this situation is most welcome and therefore we welcome the $2.Sm which the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr N. H. Bowen) has indicated tonight will be an additional gift. The question is this: Can it be said that the Australian effort is commensurate with the country's standing and resources? We must draw a comparison with a country of comparable standards of living and perhaps greater responsibilities - the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom has given £Stg37m which is almost exactly $A80m.

The United Kingdom has 4 times our population and on the same basis of giving, the Australian contribution would have been $20m. We are now reaching $5.5m. This is a crisis of human factors, as the Minister rightly reminds us, but Australian assistance in the previous crisis in Pakistan - the crisis which was caused by the tidal wave disaster - was tardy and ungenerous. If we tend to flinch from giving aid in this crisis because we think it may be a continuing development - if there is a continuing situation in East Pakistan that will produce more refugees - still we have to look back with disappointment at the Australian reaction to the disaster which was not man made and which was not continuing in East Pakistan.

The inability of the West Pakistan authorities to assist and the indifference of the outside world undoubtedly played a part in East Pakistan's dissatisfaction with remaining in the Pakistan federation. No doubt it was a factor in producing the immense vote for Mujibur Rahman and finally producing the crisis between East and West Pakistan which lies at the root of the present situation. We are afraid that manifestations of outside indifference may have further disastrous political consequences in the Indian sub-continent. The world did not react with the greatest of sympathy to the tidal wave disaster - certainly we did not in this country. As we have said before - it bears saying again - if the reaction of the outside world to the situation of the refugees is one of indifference, then there will be greater pressure on the Government or elements within the political authorities in India and perhaps in Pakistan to try to solve the refugee problem at the root, and voices are expressing the old illusion that you are going to be able to solve this problem by a war. I do not want to labour that point any further than to say that a responsible attitude by the outside world is a facor which will make for peace in the Indian sub-continent, and I stress again the importance of peace in the Indian sub-continent.

India is a country which matters far more to us than some of the countries that we have said were of major strategic interest to us. No-one can dominate Asia who does not first of all dispose of India. Lying behind this situation is the fear that Pakistan may become China's instrument for disposing of India. I think that as time goes on the likelihood of this decreases, but we should remember that there is a potential world war situation in the Indian sub-continent. Those are weighty considerations why our action should be generous and not tardy. Of course, the Indian authorities will express thanks for any aid that is given at all, but can anyone seriously believe that if the aid had been four or five times as great they would not have appreciated it four or five times more than the aid that has been given? While the Minister has said again and again that all the aid we are giving has been effectively deployed, it must be remembered that the smaller the aid one gives the more certainly one can assure that it is effectively deployed. If one is giving very small medical aid, then a very small medical team can see that this gets into a situation of crisis among the refugees.

But there is no doubt that one of India's greatest needs in food imports or in any other respect is for foreign exchange to help her in coping with her problems. Foreign exchange means a claim on the production of the outside world. If Australia's gift increased India's resources in foreign exchange, the burden of this unexpected development would be lifted from the budget of India. The Indian Government had immense developmental plans. Many of these have had to go down the drain because of spending on the refugee problem. I think I have said previously that the total cost at a point of time about a month ago of this refugee problem was 120 million crores of rupees - a crore being 10 million rupee* - and at that stage the outside contribution amounted to 8.2 million crores, or one-fifteenth of the cost. Five-year plans and developmental projects of the Indian Government have had to be set aside in facing this unexpected incursion of refugees into an extremely sensitive area of the Indian sub-continent.

Bengal has been politically volatile. Several times the constitution of Bengal has been suspended with President's rule, into this Bengal situation have now come desperate people. Not so far from this part of Bengal is a narrow neck of land known as Naxalbari which joins India to the northeast frontier areas, and in that Naxalbari area has been one of the most vicious guerilla movements, one of the most powerful anarchist movements in the world, the Naxalite movement, and any sort of chaos is grist to its mill. The Naxalite movement has spread over parts of India, but it is particularly characteristic of the north-east, and it has had some power in Calcutta and Bengal.

The Australian Labor Party has been making some public comments on this matter. It came out into public last July at the Launceston conference of the Labor Party. Widespread concern has been expressed in the Labor movement about Australia's unreadiness for any of these humanitarian crises which have developed in the world. The decision was made that as part of Australia's defence forces we should own a substantial hospital ship. Any who saw in Indonesia some years ago the American hospital ship, which was .">art of America's naval force, moving into a situation in Djakarta, bring in a magnificently equipped floating hospital with an excellent staff, could see how effective that form of aid was. We believe that there are many situations in the southern hemisphere where, if Australia had had a hospital ship, it could have moved in and given great assistance. There is no doubt that if a hospital ship had moved into Calcutta it would have added to the facilities to treat wounded people, sick people and people who are suffering as a consequence of their displacement in the political crisis that developed in East Pakistan.

Not long ago Yahya Khan appeared on television, and he had the grace to say he believed that the Pakistan Government had made a mistake in excluding reporters from the outside world to see the situation. If this indicated that he was now willing for people to see the situation, it was a sign of real grace that I would be happy to see the outside world follow up. He also believes that the people who fled have fled in an unjustified panic. I believe that we should be following this up. If he is right in saying that the panic was unjustified, then there should be no objection to allowing the outside world to see the situation. Presumably if people have moved from their homes, not all of them have crossed the border, and there must be some problems concerning relief and resettlement in

East Pakistan. There are still the consequences of the tidal wave. I would be glad to see the Australian Government actively concerned in this situation and looking for some way of providing aid in East Pakistan as well, with the assistance directed to people who are displaced or who are refugees in the fighting.

It is a matter for concern that there are reports of mobilisation of both India and Pakistan. Both of those countries are friends of ours. They both retain membership of the Commonwealth of Nations. They both have certain historical associations with a former empire in the same way as we have. It would be of immense advantage to the world if the position in the Indian sub-continent were so settled that what was once the Indian empire - India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon - could form some sort of a common market. Those wishes are for the future. If our approach to this matter is that we take every step that we can to support a sane settlement, to bring in the view of the outside world, the searchlight of world public opinion, and to show that we are prepared to pay a price ourselves, I believe that we will be able to play a part in bringing peace to the sub-continent and also meeting the needs of the refugees. We welcome this additional grant by the Commonwealth Government. We hope that this is not the final act of the Commonwealth Government. We have no doubt that Australian public opinion is prepared for generosity in this matter. Correspondence that we have received, conversations back in our own constituencies and petitions which have been read in this House are all manifestations of this concern.

In moving this amendment the Opposition does not think that $ 12.75m, if that is what $1 a head of the Australian population would total, should be a final statement on this issue. We believe that it would be an act which would be an earnest of Australia's intention to act effectively. I have seen this Parliament make an impact on situations. I remember that the Chifley Government once granted £25m in relief and then £20m to the same place. There have been quite generous grants in other areas. When Sir Paul Hasluck was Minister for Foreign Affairs grants were made in connection with the Bihar famine. I have spoken of that already, and I do not intend to speak of it again. In moving this amendment the Opposition is not trying to score points off the government. It genuinely believes that this refugee question should provoke greater generosity than has been exhibited hitherto and accordingly I commend the amendment which I outlined at the beginning of my remarks.


Mr ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Lucock) - Is the amendment seconded?


Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I second the amendment.







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