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Wednesday, 7 March 2001
Page: 25279


Mr TIM FISCHER (3:09 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister advise the House of the government's response to the horrific ethnic violence in central Kalimantan? How is the government assisting those forced to flee the violence in Kalimantan? If this involves rice as practical aid, will you confirm that this is a continuation of food aid efforts mounted by this government over the years?


Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —First, can I thank the honourable member for Farrer for his question and recognise the obvious and very great interest he has in matters Indonesian. The government, not surprisingly, deplores the recent outbreak of ethnic violence in central Kalimantan, which has left hundreds of people dead. Up to 45,000 people have been displaced from their homes. The Australian government has, not surprisingly, urged the Indonesian authorities to do all they can to protect the security and the human dignity of all residents of Kalimantan. As the honourable member suggests in his question, it is important that we as a country do what we can when there are crises of this kind in a neighbouring country and friend of Australia's. In this particular case we have decided to send, forthwith, 1,000 tonnes of Australian rice, which will be distributed by the World Food Program, to meet the needs of those people who have been displaced.

Arrangements have been made with the Australian Rice Growers Cooperative urgently to ship this Australian rice to Indonesia. I can inform the member for Farrer, and I might take the opportunity here of mentioning the member for Riverina as well, that this rice will come from their electorates. It is a very good illustration of a point that should more often be made about the Australian aid program, and that is that the tremendous strength of Australia in the area of food exports and food production means that we can assist people all around the world.

There are some people who say that we should cut out our aid program. There are some people who say that we should not give rice to Indonesia or that we should not give food aid to any countries in any circumstances. But on this side of the House—and, dare I say it, on the other side of the House but certainly on this side of the House—we think it is the right thing to do. We think it is the right thing to do to give rice from the Riverina to the people of Indonesia at this time of crisis. Those people who say that we should not need to explain not just to the Australian community why they would act in an inhumane way in circumstances like this but to the rice growers of the Riverina why their rice could not be used when need calls for that rice.

This 1,000 tonnes of rice that we are sending will provide 2.5 million daily rations, or feed those 45,000 people who have been displaced for around two months. So I think it is a very satisfactory contribution for Australia to make. It is a very important contribution to make. It once more illustrates the great value of our having an aid program which can help alleviate poverty and demonstrate the humanitarian commitment of the people of this country to other peoples in our region.