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Thursday, 11 October 1956

Mr CASEY (La Trobe) (Minister for External Affairs) [3.11. - Despite the fact that the items to which 1 shall refer are non-controversial, I think it would be wrong if the Minister responsible for ite-*is totalling something like £6.400.000 did not say a few words about them to (he committee. The items to which I direct the attention of honorable gentlemen now are contained in Division 217, which is a sort of omnibus division. It includes items relating to miscellaneous activities of the Department of External" Affairs in financing overseas missions and the like, not only for ourselves, but also for the Department of Trade and other departments. However, the expenses of those missions come in the vote for the Department of External Affairs, and we are responsible for them.

One of the items relates to the research expedition to the Antarctic, which is very close to mv heart and. I believe, is very much in the minds and imaginations of honorable members on both sides. The proposed expenditure under Division 217K is £5.200,000. most of which is taken up by an item of £4,700.000 in respect of the Colombo plan. I do not believe that on any one of the items that T have mentioned there is any controversy between us. Indeed, there have been very few references to them in the course of the debate so far.

The honorable member for Batman (Mr. Bird) made a thoughtful and sympathetic speech on the Colombo plan, and I should like to refer to one or two remarks that he made. He reminded the committee that one of the resolutions passed by the Australian Labour party at a recent conference was to the effect that it advocated generous assistance by Australia to Asian peoples suffering from poverty, disease and a lack of educational facilities. We subscribe to that view also. It is something that is common to both sides. That is what we have been trying very hard to do for a number of years, particularly through the Colombo plan. The honorable member for Batman, in combating what I hope will be regarded as synthetic criticism of the Colombo plan, referred to the argument that we hear from some quarters to the effect that charity begins at home and that we should spend this money on our own people. My friend from Batman, very rightly and very intelligently, went on to say that charity does not end at home.

I do noi think that I am called upon to defend the Colombo plan at this stage of its history. I believe that the vast majority of thinking Australians are firmly of the view that, to the reasonable limit of our ability, we should continue to bring aid to the countries of South and South-East Asia which say that they need aid. I do not propose now to give a dissertation on the Colombo plan but, if required, I shall be available to do so on other occasions. There has been a slight increase, of the order of 10 per cent., in the amount provided in the Estimates under Division 217. That has been brought about largely by an increase in the amount that we have been obliged to find as our share of the" costs of the South-East Asia Treaty Organization. That is something, of course, that we cannot and do not want to avoid. Another contributing factor towards the increased amount under this division is a certain increase in our Antarctic costs, which I shall describe quite briefly. There are one or two other small increases and decreases, and the final result is that the estimated expenditure is fi, 184, 000, compared with last year's expenditure of £1,063,938.

Let me now say a few words about the increase in our Antarctic costs. The estimated expenditure for this year is £342,000 as against expenditure last year of £268,667. This increase has been brought about, first, by the need, as we saw it, to acquire a new aircraft. We already have one Canadian de Haviland Beaver aircraft, which has done remarkable service in the Antarctic in the last ten months. We shall acquire a second Canadian de Haviland Beaver aircraft, which will go down to our Antarctic base with the December relief parly. The aircraft that is there now will then be brought back for reconditioning, and will return to the Antarctic with the next relief party in about fifteen months' time. A great many hours have been flown by this aircraft, which is operated by a Royal Australian Air Force crew. The aircraft has proved itself eminently suitable for this kind of work under what honorable members will realize are extreme conditions. Another reason for increased expenditure is the fact that we intend to estab lish a new station at Vestfold Hills, on the coastline about 400 miles east of Mawson. That station will be manned by five men and will cost an additional £24,000 this year.

In general, the expenditure will increase slightly for this year, because in the course of this financial year the International Geophysical Year starts and continues for twelve or eighteen months. We have been preparing for several years for the International Geophysical Year, and we have now, and will have when our party is relieved in December or January, a first-class contribution to make, under a great number of scientific headings, to the world-wide activities of 50 different countries in connexion with operations envisaged in the International Geophysical Year. Australia will be able to play at least its part, if not a good deal more, in the additions to the world's knowledge that will undoubtedly result from this great co-operative effort in the International Geophysical Year.

I sometimes wonder whether Australians generally realize the part that Australia's claim to a large portion of the Antarctic continent will play in our future. This is not the proper opportunity to speak to honorable members at any length about the Antarctic, but I would remind honorable gentlemen on both sides of this chamber, with great respect, that the Antarctic may very well, in years to come, occupy a very much bigger place in the thoughts of Australians than it does to-day. We are laying foundations there that may stand us in very good stead in the future.

Referring to the other items under this division, I have already spoken briefly about the Colombo plan, and I shall say no more about it. Then there are five or six items that relate to international aid in a variety of directions. It may be asked why Australia should bother itself about contributing to the relief of hardship in places many thousands of miles away from our shores. The simple fact is that we are in the world and of it. We have to do our share of relief of distress in any part of the world, and we are doing so, and have done so in the past, from Korea right around to the Middle East. We have contributed to the relief of the million or so unfortunate Arabs in the Gaza strip on the Levant coast, and we have contributed in many other directions. We are doing these things merely because in this new post-war era no country wants to or is being allowed to live to itself alone. Every country, however remote from others, must accept its share of the general burden. We are not alone in giving aid to these unfortunate countries thousands of miles from our shores. I can tell honorable gentlemen, as, indeed, they probably know, that Australia can hold its head high in respect of the contributions that it makes, from its necessarily limited resources, to those who are in various degrees of distress in a great many parts of the world.

I wished to say those few words in regard to this combination of items covering our contributions to the relief of hardship in other countries.

Dr Evatt - Will the Minister tell the committee the contributions that will be made towards the United Nations International Children's Fund this year?

Mr CASEY - Yes. I am grateful to the right honorable gentleman for reminding me of this matter. Australia again has a proud story to tell in this connexion. It began during the last Labour administration, when the right honorable gentleman was in the position that I now hold, and large amounts of money were found by the government of that day as contributions to the United Nations International Children's Fund. I am speaking of governmental contributions. We have continued to contribute, although in this case we have not been able to maintain quite the same level of contributions as was achieved in those days. We have, however, increased the level of contributions in other directions. The Australian public is asked from time to time to make voluntary contributions towards the children's fund, and in this connexion again we have a proud story to tell. 1 know of no other single work more worthy of both governmental and private support than that which is carried out with the aid of this children's fund. I do not know how many millions, or even tens of millions, of children living, in some cases in the most distressing conditions, have been aided and given a chance to live through the medium of this international children's fund.

There is a group of subjects covered by the Estimates under consideration upon which I could speak to honorable members, if they had the patience to listen to me, for almost any length of time. Unfortunately our time is running out, and 1 shall have to leave it at that. If honorable members require further detail on any particular matter on a later occasion I shall be only too glad to give it to them.

Proposed votes agreed to.

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