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Wednesday, 30 October 1974
Page: 2131

Senator SIM (Western Australia) -I do not intend to speak at any length on this Bill. The views that I express are also the views of my colleagues in the Australian Country Party. Whilst the Opposition is not opposing this legislation I, for my part, do not commend it. No justification is given in the second reading speech for removing aid from the Department of Foreign Affairs. The increase in the volume and complexity of aid is no excuse for setting up a new agency. After all, as my collague, Senator Davidson, pointed out, aid and foreign policy have very close relationship. Personally I believe that that close relationship is best served by aid being handled by a branch of the Department of Foreign Affairs. It may be that the office now administering foreign aid required some expansion to be more effective. I ascertained during the examination of the estimates for the Department of Foreign Affairs that the office administering aid had a staff of some 145 people. In my view they were very effective, and I repeat that I do not deny that maybe there was an argument for increasing that staffing. But I find that the new Agency has a staff of some 477 people. Although I admit that I was delighted that the Agency has the new responsibility of Papua New Guinea added to the responsibilities of the former aid office, I find it hard to justify this very significant increase in staff.

I would like some intimation from the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee) as to the appointments to senior positions. How many more senior positions at the moment have been created or have to be filled, and what staff will be required to service those positions? I also worry about and would like some assurances from the Minister in relation to aid conferences overseas. Are we to find that, whereas in the past many of the conferences overseas on aid were attended by staff from our embassies overseas, we are now to have the added expense of people from Australia going to these conferences in great numbers and thus ignoring the people on the spot who, in my view, have been in the past, certainly are now, and will be in the future quite capable of representing Australia? In other words, I would like some assurances from the Minister that we are not building a huge bureaucratic machine which adds very greatly to the administrative costs of our aid programs. These are some of the points that I would make in relation to the establishment of this Agency.

I would like some very complete assurances, despite the assurance we are given in the Minister's second reading speech, that there will be a very close liaison between the Agency and the Department of Foreign Affairs. I have a healthy suspicion of inter-departmental committees and other such committees. People who are appointed to departmental committees are very busy with their own responsibilities and their duties on these committees become a sort of part time responsibility. If there is any breakdown in liaison I feel that the value of our aid will be affected. I am pleased to have the assurance that there will be a critical analysis and evaluation of our aid program. The Minister will remember that I raised this matter at the Estimates Committee's hearing. I am pleased to have this assurance and I hope that it will be a critical analysis and evaluation as to the effectiveness of our aid, including our aid given through United Nations agencies. I always have a nasty suspicion that the bureaucratic nature- the top heavy administrationof the United Nations results in a lot of aid going in administrative expenses instead of going to the people whom we are aiming to help. So I would like some assurances from the Minister in relation to this matter. He need not necessarily give them now but perhaps he could do so during the debate on the Appropriation Bill when some of these matters could be raised again.

After all, it is not how much is spent on aid which is important; it is the effectivenes of the aid. It is all very well to say that we should spend a certain percentage of" our gross national product- we could all spend money ad infinitum. But surely the important criterion is how effectively the money is used. I believe that we have a pretty good record in relation to the effectiveness of our aid. I believe that we should concentrate on providing assistance to those areas in which we are most effective. I refer to such areas as the provision of technical and managerial skills in underdeveloped countries to help to provide an infrastructure. While we all accept the need for humanitarian aid to be given to Bangladesh, India and other countries suffering from these tremendous human problems, I believe that we should be having a very close look at providing the sort of aid also which will help these countries to help themselves. We could pour in year after year humanitarian aid, but unless we provide aid in the form of fertiliser plants and assistance in the proper use of fertiliser in order to help them build up their own agriculture so that they are better able to feed themselves, it becomes a sort of bottomless pit. I think that we, in conjunction with other countries, should be having a very close look at helping these countries to help themselves to a far greater extent than I believe is often the case.

As I said, I wish to speak only very briefly on this Bill. However, I wish to say that we in the Opposition will be having a very critical look at the new Agency and will be making a critical analysis of its effectiveness and its administrative costs. I wish also to make a comment on this question of aid to national liberation movements. I accept the Minister's statement that the Agency will be used to provide humanitarian aid to refugees, but I merely wish at this stage to raise one query which is in my mind. Of course, it is very difficult to distinguish between genuine refugees and terrorists. We know of the experience in Lebanon, where terrorists live in refugee camps and operate from refuge camps. It is all very well to express sympathy for the aims of some of these liberation movements. I wonder whether we would have the same sympathy if they were acting against us. This could well be the case at some future date.

Despite the fact that aid is to be given through multi-lateral agencies and through the United Nations, it does not fill me with a great deal of confidence. Nevertheless, I would like assurances that we are going to be very careful that we do not give direct aid, in whatever form, to people engaged in acts of terrorism. It is all very well for us in this place to deplore, as we do, acts of terrorism by some people in our country, as was discussed today. But unless we are to have double standards we should equally deplore acts of terrorism by anybody regardless of the sympathy which people may have for a particular cause. I am still far from satisfied that this aid will not be used to assist any terrorist activities. If it is to be used purely for humanitarian purposes to assist refugees, then we have great sympathy with it. But I do seek some assurance that this aid, by whatever means it is to be given, will be controlled to the extent of ensuring that it is not directly assisting terrorist activities.

One could discuss the philosophy of aid and many other matters. I think those are matters which should be discussed at some time but I do not think this is the moment to discuss it. Therefore, while we do not oppose this legislation we will certainly be keeping a very critical eye on the administration of the new statutory authority that is being formed.

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