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Wednesday, 13 October 1971
Page: 2246

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I second the motion. I feel it is high time that this House was given the opportunity to consider al) the humanitarian questions involved with this enormous problem which has beset the people of East Pakistan. One cannot, of course, canvass all the aspects of this problem today, nor would one want to, because the proper thing to do is to provide an opportunity so that honourable members from both sides of this House can give to a problem of this magnitude the attention that is its due. Having just come from refugee camps in Calcutta and having just returned from the international conference on Bangla Desh which was held in New Delhi, I would like to say that I personally regard this matter to be probably the greatest demeaning of humanity which the world has ever known. Some people who know the position very thoroughly have contended that it is of such proportions that it makes Vietnam look like a Sunday school picnic. The regrettable thing is that despite the magnitude of the crisis at this point of time there is every indication that it will deteriorate even further because, despite the aid which has been provided by this and other countries-

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member knows that this is a motion for the suspension of the Standing Orders. The honourable member cannot debate the reasons for providing aid or otherwise in speaking to this motion. The debate is fairly limited.

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Thank you, Mr Speaker. I certainly would not want to strain our relationship in this matter at all. It is not necessary for me to add that experts are predicting that in the near future there is bound to be a famine which will sweep through East Pakistan. So it is not just a question of proposing to discuss the plight of the refugees in camps but it is also a question of proposing to discuss the need for political solutions in East Pakistan. Unless this is achieved there will be no effective amelioration of this great tragedy. I compliment the honourable member for Corio (Mr Scholes) for bringing up this matter because it is very clear that this and other countries have up to this point of time failed to make adequate resources available. The proposal is that we should give consideration to the honourable member's suggestion that an allocation of $1 per head of the Australian population should be expended. If this motion is carried and the Standing Orders are suspended we will doubtless have an opportunity to discuss a fair and equitable means by which this country at large can make its contribution so that everybody may participate through the proceeds of uniform taxation.

I certainly hope that this matter does receive consideration because there has probably been no other issue about which honourable members have been so inundated with correspondence from people who have heartfelt concern for humanity. Hundreds of letters are pouring into this Parliament every day and as we are about to enter this House we can see the great sacrifice being made by students who have been fasting for some days for the express purpose of causing something to happen of the kind which the honourable member for Corio is proposing should happen. I think that in consideration of that sacrifice the Government, despite the traditions of the Parliament, despite the fact that it is usually contended that the Government has to be in charge of proceedings and things of this kind, ought to concede the point. If necessary the honourable member for Corio would be prepared to withdraw his motion and allow some

Government supporter to move it if we were assured that this question would be ventilated. We do not want to get involved in any pedanticisms about a matter which affects humanity to the extent that this issue does. The demeaning of so many millions of people is in fact a demeaning of every one of us if we continue in the indifferent way that has characterised our behaviour up to date.

The Minister for National Development (Mr Swartz) who is sitting at the table, is not an ungenerous man. He is a man who can have regard for humanity. I hope that the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) will back him up if he decides to provide today an opportunity for the Parliament to apply itself to all the ramifications of this issue. If there is to be some resistance to this proposal - and I certainly hope there will not be - it may be that the Minister out of the goodness of his heart or the Prime Minister out of the qualities of his own leadership might be prepared to say. 'We cannot do it today because we want to get a Bill through but we will give an assurance that it will be done tomorrow.' The Opposition does not want to play party politics. It wants to make common cause on this and extract an assurance from the representatives of Australia that we will give to the people of Pakistan - this great mass of suffering humanity - the consideration which ought to be characteristic of the hearts of Australians.

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