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Tuesday, 29 November 1983
Page: 2948

Mr KENT —I direct my question to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Has the Minister seen the Australian Broadcasting Corporation program and Press articles concerning Australia's aid project on the island of Samar in the Philippines, which it is claimed is assisting in supporting the Marcos regime? In view of the Australian Labor Party's policy that overseas aid should not be given as a means of securing political or military advantage and the serious reservations that have been expressed in the media, does the Minister consider that there is justification for discontinuing this project? Finally, would the Minister agree with me that Australia's aid in the region should be aimed at the eradication of extreme poverty and should be given without any political ties?

Mr HAYDEN —I have not seen the programs to which the honourable member referred. However, I am aware of the case of Northern Samar and of the controversy which continues to surround that project which was undertaken by the last Government in about 1978-79. My reading of the relevant documents suggests that, at best, the economics of the program are highly questionable and that, more likely, it is not a viable economic proposal. When the second stage of the program was presented to me I required that some alterations be integrated into the program so that some of the proposals for concrete highways were changed and all-weather gravel-surface roads were substituted. A number of other adjustments were made. I still have doubts about the economic viability of the project. Nonetheless, the project is well developed. Sometimes, much as one may not like making these sorts of decisions, one must weigh up the political considerations. I am sure they would have weighed on the mind of the last Government and I have not sought to embarrass it on this matter.

In relation to the military use of the highway, I am not sure what the figures are in relation to Northern Samar, but in the case of Zamboanga del Sur, concerning which similar criticisms were made, survey material made available to the Australian Development Assistance Bureau, which it has passed on to me, suggests that utilisation of the road by the military is under 2 per cent of the total utilisation. If roads are put down obviously military forces will use them , as will a lot of other groups. I am sure no one would argue that road construction should not proceed because drunken drivers are a risk to the security of people and they will use highways. It is an incidental. The evidence in Zamboanga del Sur is in fact that there has been a substantial improvement in income levels as a consequence of that program being developed there.

The final question raised by the honourable member to which I should address myself is whether our aid should be provided, I presume exclusively, for the elimination of poverty and without any political requirements tied to it. I am not quite clear what the honourable member has in mind in regard to political requirements. I am unaware of any. Certainly I cannot recall seeing any reference in any of the papers I have seen to any political requirements being imposed on the recipients of this aid. But I say to the honourable member that while there is fairly actively promoted in Australia by some committed and well- intentioned groups, for whom I have a great deal of respect, a campaign based on the argument that all aid should be grass roots aid-whatever that might mean-and none should for infrastruture, that is not a view which I share. In fact, it is a view which I hotly dispute. I believe that there ought to be a blend of both. I think that it has to be recognised that infrastructural development is essential if the rate of economic growth in these areas is to be accelerated. If that is not accepted the rate of improvement in the condition of all people, including the poor people of these particular countries, is going to be much slower than it otherwise would be.