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Monday, 3 November 2003
Page: 21768

Mr CAUSLEY (4:46 PM) —In the limited time that I will have available to speak on this motion about West Papuan refugees, I would like to make a small contribution. Obviously, this is a very difficult issue and I certainly sympathise with those people who are involved, particularly those refugees who have come across the border and are now living in conditions that none of us in this parliament would see as being ideal. I think it is important to understand that Papua New Guinea, which is one of the poorest nations on earth, would find this particularly difficult to deal with. I agree with the member for Ballarat that many of these people, especially those up on the West Irian and Papua New Guinean border, are tribal people who have land that in many instances is held by a family—limited land at that—and of course when extra people come across the border and need to try to live off that land it makes it extremely difficult.

Since 1975, when the Whitlam government granted independence to Papua New Guinea, Australia has been a significant contributor to try to help Papua New Guinea, and I think that undoubtedly will continue. The issue between West Irian and Papua New Guinea is a very difficult political issue. Members would probably realise that I led a delegation just over 12 months ago to Indonesia, which included the member for Werriwa, the member for Lingiari, the member for Lindsay and Senator Eggleston, and West Irian was raised very early in our discussions—the Indonesians raised our attitude to West Irian—so it is a sensitive political issue; there is no doubt about that. On the other hand, I have no doubt that the West Irianese would like to see some form of independence, although that would be difficult given the fact that there is limited development in that particular province at this particular stage. I am again leading a delegation, in the next few weeks, across to both Indonesia and Port Moresby—this time with Senator Ray and, I believe, the member for Mitchell and others—during which, I dare say, these issues will be raised yet again, probably from both angles, and I am very aware of the sensitivities involved. Nevertheless, there are some issues that need to be discussed. The Australian government is regularly in contact with the Papua New Guinea government; the Minister for Foreign Affairs has made that very clear on a number of occasions in this parliament.

I did read the report—belatedly, I must say—after this motion appeared on the NoticePaperand I did have some concerns about some of the issues in it. The honourable member for Denison might be able to inform me later about them, but I thought that some of the recommendations were rather categorical, given that we are dealing with another country. We are dealing with a separate country with limited resources. While it is all very well for us to sit back in our ivory towers and say that we expect a country to do such things, I dare say that in this instance we could have been a little bit softer in some of the recommendations that were put forward, because I do believe that there are mitigating circumstances in this instance. If we look around the world at some of the more developed countries—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Barresi)—Order! The time allotted for private members' business has expired, I am sorry to say. The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 104A. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting. The honourable member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.