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Wednesday, 24 October 1984
Page: 2402

(Question No. 1132)

Senator McIntosh asked the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 10 September 1984:

Will the Government give an assurance that Australian military and bilateral infrastructure aid is not being used by the Marcos regime to suppress human rights in the Philippines, as has been alluded to by several aid authorities and Father Brian Gore.

Senator Gareth Evans —The Minister for Foreign Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

Australia has a small Defence Co-operation Program (DCP) with the Philippines which has increased from $0.804m in 1979-80 to $1.66m in 1984. DCP expenditure since 1979-80 has remained about the same both in real terms and as a proportion of the overall Defence Co-operation Program-3.4 per cent.

No weapons or armaments are provided to the Philippines under the DCP, which, with the Singapore DCP, is the smallest in South East Asia.

The Government is aware of criticisms that the DCP with the Philippines contributes to, or exacerbates, human rights problems in that country. The Program comprises mostly training and technical advisory assistance related to Australian equipment previously supplied under the Program. This includes maintenance assistance for 12 Nomad aircraft; technical assistance for Australian-made small-arms target equipment (DART); medical kits; and the provision of training in Australia. We would hope that exposure of overseas trainees to the Australian military institutions and traditions and to the attitudes of the broader Australian community during training courses in Australia will in the longer term help to increase awareness of human rights issues and thus reduce abuses.

There have been criticisms that the road building associated with the projects benefits the army by providing access to the hinterland areas. The Government believes, however, that the benefits to the people of the region outweigh concerns about military use of the roads. The roads are intended to facilitate farm to market access.

Although there have been suggestions that Australian aid to certain countries should be discontinued, the Government is of the view that the purpose of Australian aid is to develop infrastructure and alleviate some of the social and economic problems of developing countries. The discontinuation of such aid could punish the most needy people in a developing country without influencing those who direct affairs.

The Government recognises, moreover, that Australia's commercial, aid and diplomatic relations with other states enable us to maintain a dialogue with them on human rights matters. The Government pursues such a dialogue with a view to promoting genuine, lasting improvements in human rights.