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Thursday, 1 December 1960

Mr BRYANT (Wills) .- I join in this debate because I believe that the constituents of my electorate, like all other Australians, are proud to know that they are taking a part in this international operation to accept the challenge of world poverty. Some 2,500 years ago Alexander the Great stood on the banks of the Indus and wept that there were no fresh worlds to conquer. Now, we have found that there are fresh worlds to conquer. This involves, not the conquering of human beings, but the creation of better living conditions for human beings. I believe that members on both sides of the House have made a valuable contribution to thinking on this matter. In answering the call of humanity, nic Australian Country Party, the Liberal Party and the Austraiian Labour Party find themselves on common ground. Of course, we have to find more effective measures to overcome the difficulties with which we are confronted. The area to which we are giving attention is one of the most densely populated areas of the world.

I am staggered by the fact that some 450,000,000 people live in a country a little larger than Western Australia. Its resources have been depleted by years of neglect and by over-use. Therefore, one is sometimes inclined to think that, perhaps, nothing can be done about this matter. The population of the Indus Basin is about 50,000,000 people - five times that of Australia - and one is inclined to wonder whether there is anything that ordinary human beings can do to overcome the problem that is involved. But Europe is one of the most densely populated parts of the world and some small countries there carry a very high population. The situation in the Indus Basin is illustrated in the map which was attached to the copies of the second-reading speech of the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) circulated to honorable members. There is an area of about 400 miles by 500 miles - perhaps 200,000 square miles - to cater for the needs of 50,000,000 people. By comparison there are about 40,000,000 English people in an area perhaps a third that size. When one considers the high standard of living that has been achieved in Great Britain and in other densely populated European countries such as Holland and Belgium as a result of the development of the resources of those countries, one is encouraged to believe that it is possible, by the co-operation of the nations of the world, to overcome the difficulties of India.

Since the Indian and Pakistani people have achieved independence I believe that we have been guilty of neglect, not because we have not responded when there has been a call for international financial assistance, but because there has been an obsession with another great Asian power, China. We are inclined to forget that the Indian people are attempting to overcome by democratic means the problem that China is attempting to overcome by more authoritarian methods. Therefore, philosophically and politically we are much more akin to the Indian people. With some regret, one looks over the record of the last ten or eleven years and finds that we have not given the kind of encouragement that the Indian people deserve.

This is an almost magnificent moment in history. The nations involved in this agreement include the Federal Republic of Germany, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States - nations which only fourteen years ago were fighting one of the most furious wars of history, and a war in which one of the participants in this agreement was on the opposing side. So there has been a magnificent change in the world scene over the last fifteen years.

I agree with the honorable member for Reid (Mr. Uren). I do not think that it was striking a discordant note to suggest that disarmament was the need of the world to-day, and that the expenditure on armaments could better be directed to this kind of undertaking. The honorable member for Fremantle (Mr. Beazley) put the point quite clearly. We are not interested in converting these people to our way of life. We are not terribly concerned whether they accept a different political viewpoint to ours, or whether they will always agree with us in the United Nations. We are concerned with the call of humanity. That is why this event is of such international significance. I believe that we are very fortunate to be living through this great change in history.

The recent meeting of the United Nations where the leaders of the world gathered to try to hammer out their problems - some of them more brusquely than others - represented, I believe, another great change. These few years - the last couple and the next three or four - may well see a breakthrough towards the harmony of nations. I do not expect that all international problems will be resolved without some struggles and without some breaches of the peace. But I believe that we have arrived at the stage at which the nations of the world are gathering together to help themselves. Of course, it is not only to the construction side - the engineering side - that we must look for a solution of our problems.

The food problems of the world can be assisted by increasing production on the home ground of the densely populated countries such as India. As the honorable member for Fremantle pointed out, the use by India and Pakistan of Australian technical knowledge in agricultural production would give those countries five or six times their present production in rice alone. So, in their own homeland, people must find some solution to the problem of food production. But we must also find more satisfactory methods by which to distribute food and to get rid of the surpluses of the food producing countries.

One disappointing feature of Australia's development during the last few years is our decreasing ability to export food. We are maintaining something like a constant supply of foodstuffs such as wheat, but we are not expanding production absolutely in accordance with our expansion of population. As our population increases and we consume more of our own food, we are able to export a smaller proportion. So, we are taking a relatively less important part in overcoming the world's food problems. For instance, in Australia, the acreage under wheat has dropped in the last few years. In 1949, the area under production in Australia was 12,500,000 acres. I am sure that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as a member of the Country Party, will be vitally interested in these statistics. In 1957-58 the area under production was 8,900,000 acres, a decrease of almost 30 per cent. The figures show that wheat production itself stood at a more or less constant level, so that the Australian farmer has increased his productive capacity by about 30 per cent, but, unfortunately, because of a decrease in the acreage devoted to the growing of wheat, we have not got that extra amount to export.

That is a tragic circumstance in a world that needs our food.

The production of less useful foods such as sugar and tobacco has increased, but the production of the vital foods which the world needs, foods such as wheat, about which Australia has great technical knowledge

Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. Chaney).

Order! The honorable member is getting a little wide of the bill. He may refer to production in the area in which this scheme is being developed, but he should not devote too much time dealing with production in Australia.

Mr BRYANT - This bill is related to what is an international project, and I should think it would be relevant to consider some of the other fields in which we ought to be able to find agreement. Australia ought to be one of the leading food-producing nations of the world, and I am pleased, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that you have noted my remarks. I can only hope that the party to which you belong may be able to overcome some of the particular difficulties which we encounter.

The point I wish to stress is the role of India in the world to-day. It has tremendous population pressure; it is faced with great problems of development and it is not without significance as a neutral nation which is more or less under-armed. There is a great deal more than money involved in an international agreement such as this. For instance, if we can raise the living standards of the people of India we shall create in the world another body of people who can add to the stability of the political structure of the world. Australians can be gratified at the fact that they are taking part in this project. The people of India need our assistance, as indeed do our closer neighbours, the people of Indonesia. But I believe that India, because of its long association with the British Commonwealth, has more call upon our immediate consideration. Again, the people of India have made greater advances in the field of education and have produced more of their own technicians than have the people of Indonesia.

This international agreement is symbolic. Our contribution of £6,000,000 is not meagre. It is a large sum in anybody's language. But I remind honorable members that it is only a little more than the cost of two Boeings. We shall be dealing with a bill relating to that subject later this evening. But we do not want to be churlish about these matters. We should apply ourselves with great vigour to assisting the underdeveloped countries of the world. At its last conference held in Victoria, the Australian Labour Party resolved that a fair standard for Australia to contribute to under-developed countries was 1 per cent, of our national income. I emphasize that every one of the 400 delegates to that conference understood the significance of that resolution in pounds, shillings and pence. They knew that it would mean about £60,000,000. Up to the present, the Colombo Plan, the Indus Waters Agreement and our assistance to Papua and New Guinea have cost us something between £25,000,000 and £30,000,000, or £2 10s. per head of the Australian population.

I hope that the Government will accept this bill as connoting acceptance of the principle that Australians are prepared to accept readily any challenge that is put fairly and squarely before them. I recall that during the war the Australians voluntarily reduced their butter consumption to help allied peoples. There is no difficulty when these matters are placed fairly before the people of Australia. I hope the Government will be encouraged by the fact that on this side of the House as well as on its own there is complete agreement with the aims of the measure, because it is a clear indication that the call of humanity transcends any political consideration nr demand on our national sovereignty.

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