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Wednesday, 27 October 1971
Page: 2631


Dr GUN (Kingston) - I think that the remarks of the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder) about demonstrators - that is, those people who wanted to demonstrate their concern for the war victims in a practical way - were, to say the least, rather unworthy. I should like also to refer to one specific remark that the honourable member made. I think he said that the sending of relief was well planned and well executed. I do not think that the Director of the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories would agree with that comment in view of the great hold-up which occurred with the delivery of cholera vaccine, which took a week longer than it should have to get to West Bengal. While this vaccine was sitting in Melbourne, 1 understand there were 6 Hercules aircraft sitting on the tarmac at Richmond and I do not see why those aircraft could not have been utilised. So, I do not think that this situation really squares with the statement by the honourable member for the Northern Territory that the sending of relief was well planned and well executed.

The Opposition, of course, is glad that the aid has been increased to $5.5m but I certainly support the amendment moved by the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) because I believe that the amount of aid that is now being given could be greatly increased. The Opposition believes that the aid that has been given is quite inadequate in terms of what Australians can afford to give. Certainly, it is pitifully inadequate in terms of what is needed, firstly, to keep the refugees alive and, secondly, to avoid the complete collapse of the Indian economy. The Australian Government probably says: 'Well we are the custodians of the public purse - of the taxpayers' money - and we have to watch it carefully', but I believe that the Australian people would support a much more generous donation of aid and a continuing aid programme to the war victims. I think we have seen this manifested by the people who have taken part in the fasting, in the letter writing campaign and, only today, with the public gesture by the Seamen's Union in South Australia. This is something of which the Government could well take note. I am firmly convinced in my own mind that the Australian people would support an aid programme of something like $10m or, if we are giving $1 per capita, of $12.5m.

I should like to say more about this figure of $10m or $ 12.5m because it is important that we do not regard it as having a special significance in its own right. There is nothing particularly magical about it and I hope that if and when the Government eventually does allow its aid to be lifted to the figure of $10m or $ 12.5m, all those people who have been supporting the campaign for greater aid will not say: 'Well, that is enough. The Government has now discharged its obligations'. We should not get it into our minds that all we need to do is to give $ 12.5m because there is no doubt that a great deal more must be done. This is only the start. Aid must be completely ongoing until all the refugees have been repatriated and rehabilitated. At the moment we are only really at the start of the problem. An enormous amount remains to be done. I think this can be seen by what is being done through the efforts of the Indian Government to try to re-locate the war victims. I think something like 50,000 a week have been moved largely by the efforts of the Soviet Union which has put in large passenger aircraft to help transport some of the war victims to the central States of India. But in spite of these efforts they are falling further behind because although they manage to re-locate a certain number in one week the same number are coming over the border in one day. As has been mentioned by previous speakers in this debate the amount , of aid that is required is very much greater that what has been pledged and the amount that has actually been received is relatively small - only about $20m.

I have with me some figures which were given to a United States Senate subcommittee convened to investigate the problems connected with refugees and escapees. These figures show that the total economic cost to India to support the current 6 million refugees for 6 months would range from about $500m to around $820m. This was when the number was only 6 million. If we extrapolate that to the present figure of 9 million - that is the figure which the Indian Government has given and I see it is the figure which the Australian Government accepts - the cost would be about S750m to perhaps a high estimate of $1230m to sustain the refugees for 6 months. This is only a start. This shows just the enormous amount that remains to be done. I do not really see why the Australian Government should not be making its own inquiries independently. Should we not be doing what the United States Senate sub-committee has done and try to determine what the needs are, precisely what the Indian Government wants and how much it does cost to sustain this enormous number of refugees for 6 months, one year or for however long they will be maintained? I think we ought to get more first-hand knowledge as to what is needed.

The other point about this figure of $10m or $12.5m, whatever you like, is that it is not just a question of providing more aid because the problems that are imposed by the influx of refugees are not entirely economic. There are political and social problems just as much as there are economic problems. A problem that has been caused by the influx of refugees is that a refugee who is already getting a daily supply of rations can virtually go out and offer his services as a labourer for very much less than the going price. The resultant downward pressure on wages has caused and I am sure will continue to cause a great deal of friction between the refugees and the people of West Bengal. Similarly there will be inflationary pressure which will cause similar social friction in the area. Another great problem - and this is related to my point that it is not purely a matter of providing funds - is that even before the refugees arrived in West Bengal that area was tremendously overcrowded, very largely due to the large number of refugees that had come from East Pakistan since partition in 1947. Between 1947 and the beginning of this year 5,500,000 refugees had come to West Bengal. The population was 44 million. Of this number about 2 million were unemployed. I would say that that would be an extremely high percentage of the work force because a large number of that 44 million were children because as is well known these families have large numbers of children.

There is also the problem of land hunger. Most of the unsettled land up to the time of partition had been settled by an active programme of the Indian Government to try to settle post-partition refugees. So there is practically no land left to give to these refugees. As has been mentioned by previous speakers in this debate there are enormous political problems in this area, problems not of the same order as we have here. Our problems are nothing compared to those in West Bengal where political violence is just the order of the day every day. These are the great problems facing West Bengal and they were present even before the refugees started to come over the border. These problems have been exacerbated by this sudden influx of 9 million refugees. Ultimately it will not just be a question solely of providing more aid, although this is very important, but a political solution must be found. In my view there is only one solution and that is the refugees must go back.

In what circumstances will they go back? People talk about political settlements. I think that if there is some sort of deal made perhaps between the Awami League and the Government in Islamabad I do not think it would be sufficient to make all the refugees go back. I do not think they will go back until the military withdraws. I do not think the military will withdraw until there is complete independence. That is my own view. It is a conclusion I have reluctantly come to but I think it is an inescapable one. I am not saying that the Australian Government should intervene and necessarily recognise the Government of Bangla Desh, but I do not think we should put anything in the way of complete independence eventually coming to the people of East Pakistan or East Bengal. However, I think there are positive things that we can do. We have to try to achieve a political solution but this will not be an end to the problem because there are enormous problems in East Pakistan. Even if we can get the refugees or most of the refugees back into East Pakistan there will still be tremendous problems in resettling them and helping all the war victims, including those people who never went across the border into India in the first place.

But there are other things that we can do and I have in mind something at the diplomatic level. I think we should try to influence our American allies. We have been rather unquestioning allies of the United States in recent years and I think it is about time that we used our good offices to try to influence them to take a more rational course that would be not only in our interests but would be in India's interest and in the interest of the United States. I sometimes despair to think how blind the United States is in its own policies towards India at the moment. It is rather appropriate that I have with me a letter which I received today from a friend of mine in Delhi. I will briefly quote from that letter. It reads:

We failed to understand the sermons of restraint by the big powers, particularly the Nixon administration, who are supplying the arms to the military junta in West Pakistan and aiding the refugees also, though Indian public opinion bore a strong resentment against such a double cross policy. Still, we hail and appreciate the role played by Senator Kennedy and other senators and congressmen.

I think this is something we should do. We ought to be able to use our good offices to try to persuade the Americans to change course. I believe the Americans are making the same mistake as they did with Vietnam. They are prepared to disregard the interests of particular countries in the interests of some abstraction which they refer to as global strategy'. I think that if they looked at the human problems first and this vague notion of global strategy last it would be very much better for the US, for us and certainly for everybody in this area.

I think also that the Australian Government should stop pussyfooting about its attitude towards the trial of Sheik Mujibur Rahman in Islamabad. As has been mentioned, I think quite appropriately by those who presented petitions, I do not think it is enough for the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) to call upon the Government of Pakistan to exercise magnanimity and compassion. I think it could do a lot more and say: 'There is no doubt about it. We regard Sheik Mujibur Rahman as the rightfully elected Prime Minister of all Pakistan and certainly of East Pakistan, and the Awami League as the rightfully elected government.' There is so much more we could do. I would like to see Australia carry out a peace offensive in this area. Why do we have to be so much concerned with the actual Indian Ocean? When we are talking about the Soviet Union Navy sailing its ships up and down the Indian Ocean we get terribly excited. Surely the important thing is the countries on the periphery of the Indian Ocean.

I think that we could be far more constructive in helping those countries and in helping our own interests - in our own security. In our own security we could be carrying out a peace offensive to help these countries. I think this would do a lot more good for Australia than all this sabre rattling about building an $80m naval base at Cockburn Sound or purchasing destroyers at $70m or $80m. It is just absurd.


Mr Barnes - You just want to scrap our defences.


Dr GUN - My suggestion would be a much better form of defence. All I can say is this: The money would be much better spent and our interests would be much better served for the future. Honourable members should forget some of their old dogmas. If the Government does not send a delegation I would like to see the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr N. H. Bowen) go over and have a look at this situation himself. The heads of voluntary organisations have done this. Major-General Cullen, the head of Austcare and in charge of voluntary help to India, went and had a look. The Minister for Foreign Affairs is in charge of this Government's foreign aid. Why does not he go over and take a look? I think it should be required viewing. If he had a look I am sure he would have much more decided views about what we need to do in our own interests.

We need to do it not only for humanitarian reasons but also because of the war that, could occur between the 2 powers if something is not done. It is an extremely dangerous situation when we have Russia on one side and China on the other. It is something we cannot discount. While we have the problem of increasing frustration and the increasing inability of the Indian Government to overcome this tremendous problem, there is a great danger that out of frustration they might resort to war. This is something we do not want to happen and it is something we must do all in our power to avoid in the interests of humanity. Also it is something we should do as an affluent country and in our own interests. Finally I would like to see an end to all this secrecy about the so-called diplomatic activity in which the Government is engaging in order to keep peace between the 2 sides. I would like to know what this diplomatic activity is. What is going on? We have no evidence that the Government is doing anything. There has not been any positive evidence of any benefit coming from what it has done. I do not like to criticise Ministers personally but I think the effort of the present Minister for Foreign Affairs has been quite insipid and pretty putrid.







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