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Thursday, 15 September 1983
Page: 931

Mr MAHER(6.17) —I am delighted to have an opportunity tonight to comment on the Budget. In particular I wish to deal with Australia's foreign aid program which comes to the outstanding amount of $836m. I raise this issue tonight because I was recently a member of a parliamentary delegation which visited a number of developing nations on our doorstep such as Papua New Guinea, which was our former colony, the Solomon Islands, which was a former British protectorate, and Vanuatu, which was a condominium run by the French and the British governments.

Our land faces many difficulties. We have the terrible curse of unemployment on us. Every member of parliament knows how difficult it is to sit at his or her desk and talk to a constituent who is unemployed. Every member knows how difficult it is to face across the desk someone who is a breadwinner with dependants and who has no job and no hope of getting a job in the present climate. This situation is exacerbated if that person has a little English, few skills or some health deficiency. The tragedy is brought home to all of us in this chamber, in the Senate and in State parliaments who interview constituents. Perhaps we see the harsh realities of unemployment more than most other groups in society.

This is the task that the Australian Labor Party in government has set itself- to create jobs, an economy which will pick up and an economy which will launch the private sector into creating jobs. It is the private sector to which we must look. In the long term a government cannot create jobs in the Public Service, in the public sector. It must be a privately-led economic recovery. Every Australian recognises that, the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) recognises that and the Government recognises that. Every Australia recognises the need for employment and for schemes to assist, train and help the unemployed. There are problems in the state schools and in the non-state schools. They all have needs. The hospitals and the ethnic communities have needs. Migrants are entitled to the opportunity to learn English and skills. The refugees we are bringing to Australia under the various international arrangements have great needs for housing and care.

Our environment has claims on society for funds. Sydney desperately needs a second airport, and I am delighted that the Government is pressing ahead to nominate a site for it. However, we must never overlook the difficulties facing developing nations on our doorstep. These nations are our neighbours and I have found that they look upon us as the United States of the region. We are the big power in their area. They all have a large imbalance in their balance of payments with Australia. They trade with Australia, their communications are with Australia, and in some countries Australian currency almost circulates along with the local currency.

We have problems here, but we are a rich country. We have a population with great enterprise, a population with great common sense. It is my belief that we will pull ourselves out of this economic trough, but we must never forget the economic commitments we have made to our neighbours, particularly to our former colony, Papua New Guinea and to all the other nations in the region, including Indonesia, Malaysia and Korea, which are all struggling to develop.

The impression I gained from the countries I visited with the parliamentary delegation which has just returned was the need for public health assistance. The problem of malaria, which is endemic in all of the countries we visited, is quite overwhelming. One must not let it get out of perspective, but public health problems are something that Australia must assist with. I am delighted to see the enormous commitment to funding in our foreign aid program. Much of this money will go towards public health. Papua New Guinea will receive $302m in 1983 -84. Of that amount, $288m is a straight block grant as a Budget support. This is untied money given to the Papua New Guinea Government, which will spend it on programs that it considers suitable. We were shown many programs and activities that the Government is undertaking to develop the nation, to provide jobs and to improve public health and public safety. A significant proportion of this money will go towards education schemes and public health schemes. The health problems are such that they almost frightened members of the delegation.

We were impressed by the quality of the Australian personnel working on aid projects as teachers, lecturers, public servants or advisers to government. There is a surfeit of various government bodies. In Papua New Guinea alone there are 19 provinces, which are somewhat equivalent to our States. As we went around the various provinces we called at many mission stations. It was quite distressing for me to come upon one mission station in the Solomon Islands where there were some Dominican nuns from my electorate. Some of those missionaries were just recovering from malaria. However, it is not malaria that causes trouble, it is the fact that when one is in a weakened condition one can pick up something else, such as dengue fever or blackwater fever. It is not the mortality from malaria but the morbidity that is the problem. A person who is weakened from having malaria can die from something else.

The delegation spent eight days in the Solomon Islands and we had a tremendous opportunity to appreciate the achievements of the Australian aid scheme in that country. Australia has given the patrol boat Tulagi to the Solomon Islands; it makes up the entire navy of that country. The problem for the Solomon Islands is that it is almost impossible for the patrol boat to visit all its 2,000 islands and atolls to maintain law and order. It is particularly difficult in very rough weather. I am delighted that the Prime Minister has made a long term commitment to provide an additional patrol boat. I know that the Government of the Solomon Islands will appreciate this assistance.

One of the needs in the Solomon Islands is technical training. The Australian aid program, as outlined in the Budget, will be of great assistance to the Solomon Islands, which is in great need of technical training for its people. The delegation got the impression that the Solomon Islands has been somewhat forgotten by the United Kingdom. It is a British protectorate which was the scene of some of the most horrendous battles in World War II. On Guadalcanal there were 26,000 American and Japanese casualties, the majority probably from malaria or starvation. We tend to overlook a country such as the Solomon Islands , but it is one to which we owe so much. Had it not been for the bravery of the Americans and of the Australian forces in the Solomon Islands our nation may well have been invaded in the Second World War. So we do owe a great debt to the Solomon Islands.

Despite our real problems at home-problems that we must not and can never overlook-we still have a tremendous moral commitment to give substantial aid to all the nations on our doorstep. I know that all members of the House support the Government's bilateral aid program. We are proud of this program. I appreciate the opportunity I had to see at first hand the work of this program. In each of the three nations we visited we called at the communications centre. In the two smaller countries there were no newspapers and Australia, through its aid programs, has developed radio communications in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. Australia built the broadcasting studios and transmitters in Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, where broadcasting is run by the Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation. We appreciated the work that was done in these countries because, being essentially without communications, the people rely on the radio. The population is scattered over islands for hundreds of miles up and down the Coral Sea and the various other seas in that part of the Pacific. A big problem facing these nations is to provide communication from island to island, or between the central government and the outer areas.

We had a very practical tour. We saw at first hand what Australian money is doing in these countries. The taxpayer is literally getting his dollars worth out of the aid which is given to these countries. The leaders of these nations were most appreciative of what Australia have done. They felt that Australian aid was being administered sensibly. In no case was there any evidence of waste or duplication. It was my impression that the people who were working in the various high commissions or as aid officers in the field were people of total dedication. If they had ideas to improve the distribution of aid or had criticisms of projects that were under way, they were not slow in coming forward with them. They certainly were not slow in passing on comments to members of the delegation. I believe that Australians can be proud of what we are doing in all of these countries through our aid program. Naturally in a time of recession, such as the time we are now going through, people are extremely critical of overseas aid. Many people have said to me privately that we are giving too much money to such and such a country and we should be spending this money at home.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Mountford) —Order! It being 6.30 p.m. the debate is interrupted in accordance with sessional order 106A. The debate may be resumed at a later hour. The honourable member for Lowe will have leave to continue his speech when the debate is resumed.

Sitting suspended from 6.30 to 8 p.m.