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Thursday, 15 December 1983
Page: 3852


Senator SIBRAA —by leave-I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

This report from the Joint Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee entitled 'The Provision of Development Assistance and Humanitarian Aid to the Horn of Africa' is the first of two reports the Committee is presenting on the Horn region. The second will be tabled in the next period of sittings, hopefully in March or April next year, and will deal with regional conflict and super-power involvement in the Horn of Africa. This report has been produced now so that the conclusions and recommendations in it can be available to the Jackson Committee to Review the Australian Overseas Aid Program before it finalises its deliberations. In fact, the report contains the following recommendation:

The Committee considers that the issues raised in this Report in relation to relief aid and development assistance in the Horn of Africa, and their implications for Australia's overseas aid program generally, should be considered by the Committee to Review the Australian Overseas Aid Program (The Jackson Committee). The Committee will forward a copy of this Report to the Jackson Committee accordingly.

The Committee has not addressed the general direction and priorities of Australia's aid program, but has confined its comments to the effort in the Horn of Africa. While some comparisons are made between our aid effort in Africa and Australia's major area of interest-South East Asia and the South West Pacific- the Committee will be waiting the outcome of the Jackson Committee before considering these wider issues. Suffice it to say here that since 1976-77 the percentage of Australia's overall aid effort directed to Africa has increased from a little over 2 per cent to over 10 per cent currently. I hope that the proportion is maintained.

While it is reasonable to expect that Australia should spend more of its aid dollars in its immediate region, Africa does deserve our attention. Africa is the only continent where population growth has exceeded growth in food production over the last 15 years. There is a large number of Commonwealth countries in Africa with which we maintain friendly relations. The African bloc is a significant voice in international forums.

I now leave aside those general considerations and address myself to some specific recommendations of the report. A major part of the report deals with the allegations that have been made of corruption, misuse and mismanagement of aid in the Horn, especially in Ethiopia. Many of the allegations were based on hearsay while others, although often repeated, could be traced to the same source. Nevertheless, there was sufficient substance in some of the allegations for the Sub-Committee to take them very seriously. The Sub-Committee therefore conscientiously followed them up as far as possible within its means. There were allegations that there was misuse and misappropriation of aid in Ethiopia, including allegations that medical and food supplies are being siphoned off by the army. The Committee has found that aid should not be cut off on the basis of such allegations, as was suggested by some witnesses, and concluded that investigations by the European Economic Community and other bodies justify this conclusion.

There were allegations in evidence that the relief and resettlement programs of the Ethiopian Government are used for political purposes to disperse opposition to the central government. It was further alleged that the Ethiopian Government has misled aid donors about the nature of resettlement and returnee refugee programs. Despite these allegations, international bodies continue to assist the resettlement and refugee returnee programs. The Committee does not consider that aid should be cut off on the basis of the allegations made, or because of allegations that Ethiopia has misled aid donors. It is clear that the aid does assist people in very great need of food aid. One allegation which did have considerable force was that aid given to Ethiopia cannot always reach those in desperate need. This is because parts of the country are controlled by separatist forces and national liberation groups-in Tigray and Eritrea, for example. In the case of Eritrea, the Committee notes that aid can be channelled through non-government organisations associated with the Eritrean Relief Committee, and that this is an effective means of getting urgent aid through to people in pressing need. In addition the report states:

The Committee recommends that the Australian Government should, in consultation with other sympathetic nations, determine the best method of providing food and medical aid to Eritreans and Eritrean refugees through sources other than the Ethiopian Government where aid channelled through the Ethiopian Government cannot be provided to those in great need.

The Sub-Committee received some evidence proposing that Australia assist Somalia in the development of its fishing industry. The Committee is of the view that such help could be best provided by a donor country located closer to Somalia with larger markets for the products. Nevertheless, because our fishing environment in the north and north-west is similar to Somalia's, the Committee is of the view that any requests forthcoming from the Somali Government should be considered sympathetically.

A major theme of much of the evidence, especially from non-government aid organisations, was that there was a need for greater emphasis on self-help health care and food self-sufficiency projects. The emphasis until recent years has been on the provision of emergency food aid. The problem is that people, especially refugees, become reliant on food aid donations in the long term. As the report states, such aid:

. . . can be very damaging in terms of population growth on a cause effect basis: increasing food aid causes an increase in population through a reduction in mortality rates creating an even further imbalance in food supplies unless food aid is escalated.

There is therefore a need to help the Horn countries, and I would add all the drought prone countries of Africa, to increase food production, and thus gain self-sufficiency in food. Australia's experience in dry-land farming is of course where we can provide valuable help, and the Committee made some suggestions in this regard. In relation to health care, it was pointed out in evidence that most diseases suffered in the Third World are easily and inexpensively overcome. This can be done through primary self-help health care programs, such as the one being commenced in Somalia by Community Aid Abroad. The Committee recommends that the Government continue support for this Community Aid Abroad project. There are other recommendations in the report, but it is impossible to mention them all. I hope the report will make a valuable contribution in identifying some of the problems faced by Australia's aid programs to the Third World. As I mentioned at the beginning of my remarks, the Committee will be forwarding a copy to the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) for him to refer to the Jackson Committee reviewing Australia's overseas aid program.

During the Sub-Committee's deliberations on the Horn of Africa reference, a great many thoroughly researched and detailed submissions were received from witnesses in Australia and from overseas. It is not possible to mention each of them here, but I place on record the appreciation of Sub-Committee members for all the assistance we received. One organisation that does deserve special mention is the African Studies Association of Australia and the Pacific. Knowledge of African affairs is very poor in Australia, and the African Studies Association does its best to remedy the situation. Now that the Sub-Committee on Middle Eastern and African Affairs has ceased operations, it should be recorded that the African Studies Association has provided valuable assistance to the Sub -Committee since it was established in 1978 when it undertook an inquiry into developments in Zimbabwe. The Association is an important link between Africa and Australia, and I wish it a long and successful future.

I also take the opportunity to thank the staff who helped prepare the report, especially the Committee Secretary, Ron Wiber, and Justine Francis. This is the second report tabled by the Sub-Committee in the last two weeks. The staff have been subjected to an extremely heavy work load and a very tight timetable. They have done an excellent job. I commend the report to the Senate.

Question resolved in the affirmative.