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Wednesday, 27 October 1971
Page: 2621

Mr N H Bowen (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Foreign Affairs) - by leave - I rise to make a further statement on the question of emergency relief aid. Honourable members are aware of the problem of refugees from East Pakistan, which has now assumed such enormous proportions. From the beginning of this problem the Government has kept closely in touch with the situation and has been in contact with local authorities and United Nations authorities. The Government's intitial contribution was promptly made. The position continued to deteriorate. On 8th June following an announcement of additional aid by the Prime Minister, the then Minister for Foreign Affars, Mr Bury, referring to this additional grant, said that in these emerging and rapidly changing conditions it was important to keep the priority needs of the refugees constantly under review.

The Government has carried on this close review of the situation and has responded to the deteriorating situation by grants which now total $3m. Unfortunately the political situation which has produced this great humanitarian problem has so far eluded solution. The position now is that there are some 9 million refugees in need in India and a great deal of suffering and distress also in East Pakistan. The Government, in pursuance of its constant review and assessment of the situation and having in mind what it believes to be an international obligation of this country in this unfortunate situation, has now decided to make a grant of additional aid amounting to $2.5m, of which $500,000 will be a direct cash grant to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The remaining $2m will be allocated in a flexible way to the provision of urgently needed items. We will be consulting with the local and United Nations authorities before deciding on the specific ways in which this amount will be spent.

It is not just a matter of agreeing to provide funds. It is equally important to ensure that these funds are employed in bringing relief effectively to refugees who are most in need. Our High Commissioner in India, Mr Shaw, has been keeping in close touch with the Indian authorities and has been making regular on-the-spot investigations. Having now decided to make a further substantial grant of aid we will be following the matter up through him. We are proposing to have Mr Shaw return shortly to Australia to report to us on this matter and to receive briefing as part of our continuing review. The Government's record in providing aid to the urea has been a good one. We sought to control our aid in a way which has ensured that it reached the area promptly, that it was in a form which matched the needs and that it efficiently reached those for whom it was intended by delivering it as required at Calcutta and upcountry airports. Indeed, we received commendation from the Indian authorities, which came forward in a message from which I quoted in the House on 18th August. I think this bears repeating.

I said:

Although relatively small in magnitude- this, of course, relates to the early effort in response to the problem in its early stages -

Australia's timely refugee relief has been greatly appreciated by the Government of India and by the Government of the States directly concerned. This gratitude has been expressed on numerous occasions by Indian Ministers and senior officials, both privately and publicly. Apart from the humanitarian aspect of the relief aid our contribution has had a very valuable impact on IndoAustralian relations generally, out of all proportion to its magnitude. We were correct in our early decision to deal directly with the Indian Government, to consult with it about what was wanted and where it was wanted. Each air lift of our relief supplies was well-planned and executed. Thereby we avoided the delays and frustrations suffered by other governments and agencies. Moreover Indian Government officials had the feeling that we are working with them and not supervising or directing them and we have been overwhelmed with thanks.'

This was a rather lengthy message and I shall skip some of it but it also states:

The plastic polyfabric material supplied by Australia was particularly successful. We have inspected camps largely constructed from it In Tripura, Assam and West Bengal. It has saved many lives and international agencies and other donor governments are now providing similar material. And as for our medical supplies, they have been well-selected and packaged and are being put to good use.'

We have continued this policy and as lately as 24th October we have received a further warm commendation from the Indian authorities. In a message received on 24th October from Mr Shaw the following passage occurs:

During official talks last week Foreign Secretary T. N. Kaul and Secretary of Economic Affairs I. G. Patel both thanked Australia for its prompt and effective refugee assistance which they described as .-.--'.- ,

This amount of $2. 5m which I have just announced is additional to the existing aid estimates for 1971-72. The Australian Government is not diverting aid from any other area or country in providing this assistance which will bring the total of the Government's emergency relief to the area of S5.5m since last May. The private contributions of citizens and organisations have to be brought into account in order to obtain a full picture of the total Australian effort. I would like to pay a tribute to the generous spirit with which Australians have responded to the appeals. On the figures available to me as at 24th September an amount approaching $2m in cash and kind had been sent to India.

The question of providing relief for the refugees has been recognised as an international one. The Government acknowledges its obligation to make a significant contribution to the international effort. The major economic powers and the major donors of aid to India, particularly the United States and Britain, are making the largest contribution to the international relief effort. However, the Australian Government's record in providing aid for the refugees has been a good one. Australia's performance since May in responding to this situation places us in fourth position amongst donor countries, when our aid is assessed as is normally done, as a percentage of gross national product. I believe it is a concern of all Australians that in aid matters it is performance that counts, not promises. It has been a disappointment to Australia that for the past four calendar years from 1967 to 1970 the total volume of official development assistance from all countries who are members of the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development has remained static. This has become known as the problem of aid fatigue' in the major donor countries. But Australia's aid has not remained static. During the same period our aid has in fact increased. I believe Australia can be proud of its aid record.

In the situation which faces the world on the Indian sub-continent, relief aid can deal only with a symptom of a deeper trouble. This is not the occasion to deal with the deeper problems which are causing this human suffering. Honourable members are aware of the situation and I referred on 18th August in this House to some of the initiatives being taken by the Government wi an attempt to influence constructive moves towards a solution. The hope of the Australian Government is that in the face of this tragic situation enmities will be set aside and strenuous efforts will be made by those in authority to bring about an early solution. We shall certainly continue our own efforts towards this end. In the meantime, the need for aid relief will continue and the Government will maintain its constant review of the situation. I present the following paper:

Emergency Relief Aid - Ministerial Statement, 27th October 1971.

Motion (by Mr Swartz) proposed:

That the House take note of the paper.

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