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Monday, 22 April 1985
Page: 1562


Mr MacKELLAR —by leave-The statement is welcomed by the Opposition, but only as far as the statement goes. We are very disappointed that the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) today has not taken the opportunity given to him to outline the Government's attitudes and the effect of the implementation of its policy in this very difficult and sensitive area of the world. It seems to me that there was a perfect opportunity today for the Minister to deal with some of the great problems of the area under discussion. I am glad that the Minister has complimented yet again the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence on its role in bringing forward reports of this nature. As we all know, the Joint Standing Committee over a long period of years has had the reputation of looking at these problems in great detail and coming up with sound and sensible suggestions. I am glad that the Government has seen fit to adopt many of the recommendations contained in this report.

What the Minister has failed to do today is to outline the Government's views on what it perceives as Australia's role in regard to the long-term solution of many of the problems in this area of the world. He has failed to mention what the needs of the area are. One perhaps would have thought he could have mentioned the need for more indigenous production of agricultural food crops. This is, of course, a matter of tremendous concern not only to voluntary agencies throughout the world, including Australia, but also to many of the government agencies involved in this problem.

Surely the Minister does not feel that by opening up a few diplomatic posts the long term needs of the people in the region will be solved. We must not forget that what prompted the Sub-Committee to inquire into diplomatic representation in Africa was the allegation of misappropriations in Ethiopia. Unfortunately, the Minister in his statement today has not reassured the Parliament or the people of Australia that there will be no more examples of Australian aid to Eritrea being commandeered by the Ethiopian Government as was recently the case. Obviously, the Australian taxpayers and the overseas aid agencies need to know that the organisation of Australian relief is of a high standard and this can be done only through some positive action by this Government-positive action which, I am afraid, is conspicuous by its absence.

As I have already mentioned, the problems of Ethiopia are of tremendous concern to us all. In fact the coalition views with very great concern the stories filtering out of Ethiopia and this led to the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) visiting that country late last year. He reported to the International Democratic Union that what was occurring was a famine of potentially catastrophic proportions. It is a result of poor rains, poor soil, poor water management, overcultivation and deforestation. The effects of all this have been exacerbated by foolish and short-sighted government policies in the area. The Minister, by ignoring the opportunity given to him today, has shown that the Government has an insular approach to the region. Of course we do not need to look any further than the Government's approach to the problems of the Middle East; it has decided to withdraw Australia's peacekeeping forces from the Sinai even against the advice and the wishes of the two governments involved-those of Egypt and Israel. This inept decision was taken even though Egypt and Israel expressly asked this Government to keep the forces there.

Of course that decision was the Government's response to factional pressures within the Australian Labor Party. It is amazing how many issues come back to a factional dispute within the Labor Party. I do not need to remind anybody in this House of the appalling scenes which were the order of the day in Victoria over the weekend, where 'Tomato Flavoured Labor Bloodbath' was the headline in some of the newspapers. I am sure that Community Aid Abroad and other organisations which have workers in this area of the world to which the Committee has addressed itself would have liked to hear more from the Minister on what future assistance will be given to the area and where the Australian Government sees its future direction.

As I have said, as far as the Minister's statement goes, it is fine; but it did not go very far at all. It is important to recognise that Australia is a two-ocean continent which needs independent diplomatic representation. I, like many other members of this place, have been concerned at the inadequacy of the information we sometimes receive on current trends in countries overseas, and the reorganisation of our representation, hopefully, will do something to improve that situation. Obviously many benefits will accrue to Australia and its people by the rearrangements that have been made to our posts in Africa and adjacent areas. As I have said, I hope that this will enable members of this Parliament to be provided with up-to-date information on the area.

The statement does not go very far at all. It is not constructive about the longer term issues confronting the area. It is a benign statement which adds nothing whatsoever to our store of information. The only thing that can be said about it in its favour is that it does pick up some of the recommendations in the report of the Sub-Committee of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. In that sense it is to be welcomed; but it is to be deplored because of its inadequacy of research, its inadequacy of new material and its inadequacy in presenting a long term solution, as the Government sees it, to these problems in this part of the world.