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Wednesday, 30 October 1974
Page: 2132

Senator WILLESEE (Western AustraliaMinister for Foreign Affairs) - in replyFirst, may I thank the Opposition, particularly Senator Davidson and Senator Sim for their remarks. I have already apologised to Senator Davidson, and I now apologise to Senator Sim, because I was not here to listen to all their remarks. I had an appointment with the Pakistani group. I could not foretell this morning that we were going to have 54 petitions to the Senate. It threw out my timetable a little but I do apologise to both honourable senators. Let me say that I appreciate their remarks very much. I feel that both honourable senators highlighted the attitude of the Australian people towards aid.

One of the great things, I think, about our aid program- going back before we were in governmentis that the Australian people have never begrudged the amounts of money that we have given for aid. But they have been critical, saying that we were not doing enough in some areas. That is a very human and understanding attitude because when they go overseas they see the problem. They are decent people and they are worried about it. They come back and say: 'Why does not the Government do something?' One of the things they often ask is why does not the Government do something specific in which they are prepared to help. The problem there is that we must first find out what the government of the country concerned wants.

I remember on one occasion I was very impressed with what was put to me by a doctor who had a complete proposal on what could be done by setting up a hospital. He had already been in touch with doctors skilled in that section of science and medicine. I was most impressed with his proposal. Even though it was a little outside our bailiwick I thought it was a good idea and wanted the Government to do something about it. The outcome was that the government of that country was not interested and that was the end of the matter. I just give that as one example. I am sure both Senator Davidson and Senator Sim have struck this. We can go along the track with people who want to do things but the problem is getting the aid across to people at the other end. I have been supplied with notes about what Senator Davidson was saying and I think he is completely right when he refers to the challenge of the development issue. This is one of the reasons that this body is being set up.

I understand, before I came into the chamber, that Senator Sim queried whether this body should be part of the Department of Foreign Affairs or whether it should be a statutory body. I think that is a conflict that will go on forever. Quite frankly, I do not know whether statutory bodies are the best way to administer a government function. I think in some ways they are but in other ways they are not. The Post Office is about to become a statutory body. It has been talked about for as long as I can remember. There has been an inquiry into whether the Post Office should become a statutory body and the Government has accepted the recommendations of that inquiry and the Post Office will become a statutory body. There is always this conflict.

On the question of liaison, I think Senator Sim put his finger on what is probably the crux of the whole matter: How to make this body efficient, how liaison will work to give effect to what the Commonwealth Government wants- whatever Party may form the Government from time to time- and where our aid is to be given. We just cannot give all the aid that we want to give unfortunately. The Government has examined this matter closely. I have had talks with the head of the Canadian statutory body before this Bill was introduced to set up this authority. We had long talks about the matter. I asked Mr Loveday, of my Department, to go from Paris on one occasion when we were at the Development Assistance Committee section of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, examining this matter to have talks about this special problem. The problems appeared to us to be manageable. The Canadian authority felt that somewhere down the line we would always find conflicts- as it had found- not only between the Department of Foreign Affairs and the body distributing aid but also with some of the other departments. This will need proper administration from the top to iron the problems out and keep them at a minimum. I suppose we have to live with these bureaucratic things all our lives. We just have to minimise the problems as much as we possibly can.

The question of effectiveness of the Agency was raised. This is the reason we are setting the Agency up in this way. It has been rightly said that it is not only the amount of aid which is important but it is the effectiveness of aid. I always think that we have just got to make sure that we get the greatest value for our dollar that we possibly can. The idea of setting up a special body of people is so that they can develop an expertise in this field, and concentrate on it over the years so that they will know how to apply policies better than any other department. That is the idea of establishing a statutory body. That is the aim the Government is hoping to achieve.

Over the years there have been changes in aid. We are looking more at the question now, when we project aid into a country, of ensuring that the aid employs a lot of people, particularly in agriculture. I have had long talks in the last couple of days with the Minister for Agriculture (Senator Wriedt), the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Overseas Trade (Dr J. F. Cairns) and the Treasurer (Mr Crean) because Senator Wriedt will attend next week what may be a very momentous conference- the World Food Conference in Rome. This matter received a lot of impetus last year at the United Nations. It was suggested by President Boumedienne of Algeria. At about the same time Dr Kissinger spoke on this matter. We ourselves raised this question in my speech to the United Nations and said that this was the sort of thing that we thought should be done.

Australia is one of the big food producing nations of the world. I am sure, out of the conference which Senator Wriedt is attending, will come forward planning for the planting of crops and this type of thing. At the same time other countries that cannot produce food have to weigh in on their side of it. Maybe countries which have a lot of ships may be able to help us with freight. Because of an initiative taken recently by the Government we have already attracted some help in this regard. The country to which I am referring cannot produce food but it can help Australia with the shipping. Australia, being where it is, has to spend a lot of money to freight foodstuffs. The Ethiopian situation is one I refer to particularly because not only did we have to get the wheat there but also we had to bag it to get it up into the area from which it could be distributed. Of course, this becomes tremendously expensive. It breaks one's heart when one compares the amount originally allocated with the final cost. One's heart starts to sink.

The question was raised of humanitarian aid to refugees. I answered a question on that matter today and Senator Sim and I had quite a talk about it on an estimates committee. I share his views on this matter. I would emphasise that the Cabinet decision is that this aid is for humanitarian purposes only. So, it is done by the direction of the Cabinet. If I go outside that, I am putting my head on the block. I do not want to put my head on the block and I would not want to see it happen anyway. The fact is that people have flown across borders because of the problems in places like Mozambique, Namibia, and Rhodesia where the fighting is going on. There is a flood of people from such countries who have settled in other areas. There has been a big influx recently since the fighting finished in Namibia. I do not know why some of the people have gone back into Mozambique. There was a big influx of people from Namibia into Zambia and Tanzania. Now the people are going back on the other side.

As I said today, our Ambassador from Dares Salaam is going to look at the situation. I like to get information from Australians and from people who are paid to do this job for us. This Bill is for humanitarian aid. It results from the unfortunate wars that have been going on and aid will be going to people who are indeed in very dire straits. So, there is no great argument about the setting up of this Agency. I am glad that Senator Davidson and Senator Sim have spoken of keeping a critical eye on this. I hope that they do. We are going to have, as honourable senators are aware, a body of outside people who will keep in touch with this matter. Those people will change from time to time and they will come from all sections of the community. The more constructive criticism the Government receives in relation to this matter the better it will be. It is always very easy to make destructive criticism. For instance, one could look at the figures for aid and say that they have dropped this September as against last September. Of course this happens because it is only at the end of the year that we can really see the amount of money that we have spent. Australia has a very proud record in the field of aid. I want to see it maintained. Last year we were fourth in the world on the criteria that the OECD applies to this. It is a proud position to be in.

I just want to make one other personal observation on this matter. Although we talk about aid being .07 per cent of the gross national product this, like all figures, can be distorted. If the gross national product is racing away, it makes it very much harder to keep expenditure at .07 per cent of the gross national product. The United States of America, with its tremendous and rising gross national product, does not get near that figure of 07 per cent. Nobody would suggest that the United States of America does not really pull its weight in regard to foreign aid. It would be a funny-looking aid program without the amounts of money that America puts into it. We always have to keep this matter in perspective. Although we hope to increase Australia's amount of foreign aid in this decade to .7 per cent of our gross national product, nevertheless .7 per cent of Australia's gross national product is not like .5 per cent of the American gross national product. In all these things, people often seem to think that we are the only country giving aid in an area whereas, of course, we are only one of the many countries.

The personal observation I want to make is that I do not think there is anything magical about the level of aid being .7 per cent of gross national product. Very probably, it is the lowest common denominator that was reached at an international level. I think that in the world in which we live it is little enough to expect that all countries should reach towards that level of aid. I thank the Opposition very much for its support.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

Bill read a second time.

In Committee

The Bill.

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