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Thursday, 1 December 1960

Mr LUCHETTI (Macquarie) .- The spirit of Australia is made manifest in this legislation. We as members of the Australian Parliament have the privilege this evening to be able to discuss, and to pass, a bill with a broad humanitarian appeal. Perhaps this is an historic occasion, for the Parliament of Australia is being invited to ratify an international agreement aimed at the well-being of two Commonwealth countries. We accept the principle of " One World ". We accept the principle that we are our brothers' keepers, that we have a responsibility to see that people are happy and contented, that those who are in distress are helped, and that we should play our part in overcoming the great social difficulties that exist in the world, to the removal of which members on this side of the House have dedicated themselves. Consequently, we find considerable satisfaction in supporting this measure introduced by the Government, for this is a splendid example of international co-operation and Commonwealth unity. There is a new basis of understanding between India and Pakistan which will strengthen the unity of the Indian subcontinent. That is an important matter.

The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) has said that we seek no gain. We are to contribute this sum of £6,965,000 which we have taken from the pockets of the taxpayers, because we fervently believe there is a cause to be helped and there is a need for us to assist. The Labour Party is pleased, therefore, to support the measure and extend its sympathy and fellow-feeling.

The statement by the Prime Minister also shows that this is not only a British Commonwealth plan, because it has also an international flavour. Among other nations, West Germany will play its part. The United States of America will contribute £78,903,674. It might be said that Australia's contribution is small in comparison, but when we compare Australia with the United States of America and recall that we are a new and largely under-developed country, we- realize that our contribution is substantial. The Opposition supports this plan because we think much good can come from it. Reference has been made to the Kashmir problem, but our prime consideration now is not how the world is going to deal with international political problems. We are moved by the thought that people who are in need and in distress will derive from the life-giving waters of the Indus basin food to sustain them and help them to develop as we ourselves would wish to progress. The utilization of the soil in this region will undoubtedly play an important part in the development of the sub-continent.

Australia has a good name abroad. Consequently, it is wholesome to find the Parliament prepared to vote this money unanimously. This will help us to retain the traditional mateship and friendship which is characteristic of the Australian people. Australia has a good name particularly in the Asian countries. We are respected throughout the world. Some time ago it was my privilege to visit a number of Asian countries, and everywhere I visited from Thailand to Indonesia our name ranked very high indeed. I found we were respected. The people of Asia regarded us as a colonial people who had grown up and had found our place in the world. They knew we were developing our country, building up a way of life and establishing standards that they might worthily follow. In this matter, we are indicating to the world that we are prepared to vote money for those in need without any thought of a bribe or receiving something in return. Our work as a partner in the Colombo Plan is well known and respected. In that regard, I think that the gifts that have been made by the Australian Government on behalf of the Australian people are superior to certain gifts of other kinds that have been given by other countries under the Colombo Plan. We must remember that we are helping human beings. We must select gifts and donations that will be acceptable to our Asian friends and neighbours, and useful to them in their villages and communities. We must give them something tangible for use in their daily lives. I found in my visit to some of the Asian countries that what we had given for the use and sustenance of the people was greatly appreciated. The fact that we have given horses and helped in the production of anti-snakebite serum was also appreciated by the Asians. The Australian Government has been to the fore in making these gifts. This is an answer to those who are concerned with evil machinations to cause ill-will throughout the world.

This plan for the development of the Indus waters will be accepted not only in Asia but also throughout the world as one of the outstanding projects of the present day. Altogether £139,913,000 is to be provided as a direct gift. It is pleasing to note that India will contribute £62,500,000 sterling towards the cost of construction works in Pakistan during the transition period of the replacement works. This is a fine gesture by India, and I only hope that this generous measure of co-operation will be continued. The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) put his finger on the core in this matter. This is the humanitarian gesture. Might I say to the House that if we could go ahead with the major works required in Australia to develop this country, we would be able to produce much more and our donations and gifts to other countries would be considerably multiplied. This is a magnificent gesture when we think of the challenge confronting our own country. We are largely under-developed. What are we doing about the problems at home? Our task for the development of Australia is present and real, and I can only hope that our work here will be appreciated overseas. We who sit in this Parliament, and the people of Australia who address themselves to the urgent need for the development of Australia, ask what is being done about the Burdekin River in Queensland, the Roper, Adelaide and Victoria Rivers in northern Australia, and the Ord and Fitzroy Rivers in north-western Australia? These are tangible questions and they are worthy of an answer. Despite the great task that we have to do here, we are proceeding with this project.

It disheartens me at times when I find we can play our part - and rightly so - in a plan of this sort for the development of the Indus Basin to serve Pakistan and India while essential work of a similar kind in Australia is left undone. What about the dead heart of Australia? What about the Channel country which has been in the toils of a drought, and the area represented by the honorable member for Maranoa (Mr. Brimblecombe) where cattle have died in tens of thousands? We have closed our eyes to stark tragedy in this country and have done nothing practical about it. Waterholes are dried up and the soil blown away. All these things are happening in our country and yet we are giving nearly £7,000,000, and rightly so, to an international plan. While we do these things in charity, we should remember that necessity compels us to face the challenge of our own country.

Again I say to the Government, whilst we are doing these things are we going to be content with a few pilot farms in the Northern Territory as envisaged in a proposition made to this Parliament by the Minister for Territories (Mr. Hasluck)? With the exception of the Snowy Mountains scheme are we to be content with allowing our country to remain as it has been, a waterless and unplanned land? That is not good enough for me and it is not good enough for the people of Australia. We have to do better than that. The challenge is ours. If this country is to advance and be secure, if we are to play our part fully and rightly in the councils of the world, being a big brother, as we ought to be a big brother in all these things, we have to get on with the challenge in Australia - the challenge of the development of this great and wonderful land of ours. If we do these things the measure of assistance and cooperation that we will be able to afford other countries will be multiplied one hundredfold. Let us get on to the task of doing the things envisaged in this bill before us.

I heard one or two honorable members running off the names of the rivers of Asia, particularly of India and Pakistan. The names fell from their lips, almost as if they were natives of the country concerned. Let us, in future, use the names of Australia's rivers just as freely. Let us proceed with water conservation schemes in those rivers so that our empty north and our waterless centre will receive the attention that they rightly deserve.

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