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Thursday, 9 December 1971
Page: 4580

Mr Hayden asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice:

(1)   Has his attention ben drawn to a report in The Australian Financial Review of 20th October 1971 of a statement by the Chief of Public Affair; of the United Nations High Commissions for Refugees that the Australian Government asked the United Nations to pay for transportation costs incurred in shipping medical and food supplies ti> the refugee disaster area in India.

(2)   If so, and if the Government has made the request, why did the Government take this unusual step.

(3)   Can he say whether any estimates have been made by the Indian Government, the United Nations or other responsible organisations as lo the current monthly food and medical requirements needed to sustain the refugees in India.

(4)   . Has the Government communicated with the Indian Government on the nature and extent of the aid which Australia can provide to relieve the suffering of the Pakistani refugees.

Mr N H Bowen (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The answer to the houourable member's question is as follows:

(1)   No. Australia offered rice to India on f.o.b. terms as provided under the Food Aid Convention for gifts of food aid. The Government also informed the United Nations authorities nf the offer. India asked the U.N.H.C.R. whether the High Commission could pay for the freight. The U.N.H.C.R. said that it would and the lice was then formally provided to India through the U.N.H.C.R. Australia is making a cash contribution to the U.N.H.C.R. of $500,000 which is more than sufficient to cover the freight costs on rice estimated at $140,000. Australia has paid the freight costs of all other supplies provided far the refugees.

The following is the full text of a statement made by Mr Ole Volfing, Head of Fund-raising Activities of the U.N.H.C.R. on 24th October (forwarded to the Government by the U.N.H.CR. Representative for Australia and New Zealand): I hereby wish to state that I have not, at any stage of my meetings with journalists during my visits to Australia or New Zealand, criticised the Australian Government for the size of its contribution or for the freight arrangements made in connection with their generous gift of $A1m worth of rice. On Thursday, October 21. the 'Australian Financial Review' quoted me incorrectly, including quoting me as having said that I am surprised Australia has asked the U.N.H.C.R. to pay the transport costs of the rice.

On Thursday afternoon, October 21, when 1 arrived in Wellington' I was asked by the Wellington Correspondent of 'The Australian' if I would give a statement, in the light of the quotation in the 'Austraiian Financial Review' It was at that moment I learned the quotation in the 'Australian Financial Review' of the same day. I dictated a statement to the Welling ton Correspondent of the 'Australian' on one condition - namely, that it would be published in the 'Australian' in full and without any changes. If this could not be promised I had no comments as I did not want to be misquoted once more. The Wellington Correspondent promised that the statement would either be published in full or not published at all, based on which I then dictated my statement.

I therefore deeply regret to see on passing through Sydney Airport today. Sunday. October 24, a copy of the 'Australian' of Friday, October 22, which does not publish my statement at all but Instead publishes quotations of something I have never said - such as the U.N.H.C.R. has to go to Sweden or some other country for the money. I wish to make it clear that it is the usual privilege of any government to decide if, how and under what conditions it wishes to contribute to the humanitarian programme of the United Nations and that I, as a United Nations civil servant, could not comment on or question the decision of the Australian Government in this respect. And I find it most unfortunate that Australian newspapers have misquoted me as part of their domestic disagreement with the Government."

(2)   See answer to (1) above.

(3)   The Government of India has estimated food and medical requirements for a refugee population of eight million for a period of 6 months as follows:


(4)   Yes. The Government's policy in providing relief assistance is to concentrate on those items which have been given priority by the Indian and U.N. authorities. To this end the Government has been in continuing contact with the Indian Government. The Australian High Commissioner in New Delhi, Mr Patrick Shaw, has just completed a series of briefings in Australia during which he advised the Government as to the current thinking of Indian authorities in regard to the ways of best assisting the refugees.


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