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Thursday, 24 March 1994
Page: 2213

Senator HARRADINE —My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. In respect of the inquiry into the links between population growth and development, the minister in the Senate late last year stated:

. . . we proposed that an appropriate development economist—someone with an international reputation who is fully independent and has no axe to grind on these matters in issue . . .

Does the minister recall his statement? That person has now turned into nine people, most of whom have an axe to grind. Of the $320,000 of aid money the minister has decided to spend on this exercise, $80,000 has been put aside for travel, including for bringing the nine overseas academics to Australia next month to speak to the media and others as determined by Mr Bilney. As these academics have public views in support of AIDAB-type population programs, will this not simply turn out to be an expensive propaganda exercise to justify the five-fold budget increase in population programs?

Senator GARETH EVANS —As Senator Harradine is well aware, every one of the people associated with this exercise, either as principal contributors or as assistants in the process, have distinguished academic and other records to justify their particular appointment. Every one of them, in my judgment and Mr Bilney's judgment, satisfies the criterion of having no axe to grind in the sense of having had, on the record, statements of position published—argumentative position—of a kind that it might be reasonable to think that they would feel obliged to defend in the course of this particular inquiry.

  Each one of them, to the extent that I have been able to make my own judgments about their credentials, their record, their performance and, above all, their reputation, is a person of distinction and of reputation in the development economics field. It is the case, as I frankly acknowledge to Senator Harradine, that my own hope was that we would be able to find a development economist—one or more as necessary—who had no track record at all in this area but was nonetheless sufficiently expert and sufficiently able to pick up the pieces and get familiar with the literature to do the particular job that we had in mind when we discussed this issue. It did not prove possible to find people with those sorts of credentials who were willing to take on the task and who would have been able to do a credible task in the time available.

  At the end of the day, whether this particular inquiry is credible or not, stands or falls or not, will depend on its inherent quality. If it is a poor quality job of work that has been done in which prejudices are apparent or insufficient attention to the subject matter is apparent or which is in some other ways colourable, Senator Harradine will be fully justified in standing up in this place and savaging it, as no doubt he will.  But Senator Harradine has to be prepared, I believe, to look at that particular report on its merits. He has to be prepared, I believe, to accept these people as distinguished scholars in their own right, to give them the benefit of the doubts that he presently has, at least until he sees their work, and make a judgment on that basis and not pre-empt that judgment at this time.

Senator HARRADINE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I have actually seen their work, and I refer the minister to the Hansard of 22 February 1994. It is Mr Bilney that has not—and admitted to me that he has not—read their work. Does the minister not remember telling the Senate that he agreed with me that the key concern about population programs was whether or not they were coercive? Why has the government appointed a Karen Oppenheim Mason to do the chapter on human rights and population programs when she is supported by one of the worst population program organisations, namely, the Rockefeller Foundation? I have her CV. Has the minister looked at it? There is not a word written there about human rights violations and population programs. Where is the minister's intellectual honesty? Is it submerged in the interests of Minister Gordon Bilney who, on this matter, says that he does not mind being called a Stalinist social engineer? (Time expired)

Senator GARETH EVANS —Mr Bilney's tongue was very squarely in his cheek—as I assume Senator Harradine's is at the moment in making that suggestion about Mr Bilney—when he made that remark. The point is that of course I said that one of the key questions in terms of population issues and the aid support therefor is the question of coercion. I fully stand by that particular judgment.

  But my understanding of the status of Ms Oppenheim is that she is an internationally regarded expert in that area. The fact that she may have been supported by a particular foundation, which might have on occasions supported projects that Senator Harradine has not agreed with, does not in itself affect her status as a conscientious and reputable scholar in this area.

  Again, I can only suggest that Senator Harradine look at these reports—a combination of responses that come together in this particular report—on their own merits and judge for himself, by proper intellectual objective standards, the quality of what it is that he sees and not pre-judge that particular exercise right now.

Senator Harradine —Mr President, I seek leave to table the CV so that people can see for themselves that I am telling the truth and the minister is not.

  Leave granted.