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Wednesday, 28 March 1984
Page: 826

Senator SIBRAA(5.50) —On 8 December last year I presented to the Senate a report on Australia's diplomatic representation in Africa and adjacent Indian Ocean island states. This report arose out of deliberations of the Sub-Committee of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence Sub- Committee on Middle East and African affairs, of which I was the Chairman. Since 1978 the Committee has taken a considerable amount of evidence on African issues . Members of the Senate will recall the Committee's report on Zimbabwe which was tabled in 1980 and its report on Namibia which was tabled in August 1982.

In December 1983 I also presented a report on the provision of development assistance and humanitarian aid to the Horn of Africa. This was the first of two reports that the Committee will present on the Horn region. The second report will be tabled next month, I hope, and will deal with regional conflict and super-power involvement in the Horn of Africa. The report on aid was produced so that the conclusions and recommendations could be made available to the Jackson Committee before it finalised its deliberations on Australia's overseas aid program. On 8 December when speaking to the report on Australia's diplomatic representation in Africa, I pointed out that the Committee made the following recommendation:

The Committee considers that valid reasons exist for the upgrading of Australia 's representation in Ethiopia and recommends that consideration be given to the establishment of a mission resident in Addis Ababa. The Committee is cognisant that financial constraints and Australia's other representational priorities will be factors associated with such a decision. As is the case with other countries with which Australia has diplomatic relations the Committee notes that the fact of having diplomatic relations does not of itself indicate approval of the other Government's policies or actions.

The Committee made that recommendation for a number of reasons, including the fact that Ethiopia was the fourth-largest recipient of Australian aid in Africa in 1982-83, and it was clear to the Committee that Australia's diplomatic post in Nairobi was unable efficiently to monitor aid activities in the Horn of Africa because of a lack of resources.

A number of allegations were made to the Committee about misappropriation and misuse of aid in Ethiopia. It did appear that there was a need for increased staff resources to enable a more thorough on the ground check on aid contributions. However, the major recommendation of the Committee which is of particular significance related to Australia's representation in the Indian Ocean region is that:

Consideration be given to opening a post at Mauritius to promote Australia's interests in Mauritius itself and among the island states of the Indian Ocean. In the Committee's view such a post would be a more rational use of resources than exists at present and would improve considerably our ability to promote our interests in this strategically important region.

Some of the reasons for making this recommendation were: Firstly, there has been considerable competition among the major powers for port facilities in and around the Indian Ocean in recent years; secondly, Australia has a significant expatriate population from Mauritius and the Seychelles; and, thirdly, Australian tourism in the area and especially to Mauritius has been growing steadily over the years. The Committee also looked at the possibility of Qantas Airways Ltd flying to Mauritius. If this occurs, and there is every reason to believe that it may, it will be of even greater significance for Australia. Therefore, the Committee is extremely pleased that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bill Hayden, announced on 19 February 1984 that Australia would establish resident diplomatic representation in Mauritius as recommended by the Committee. Mr Hayden's statement read:

The establishment of a High Commission in Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius, reflected Australia's growing interest in the Indian Ocean region, as well as the cordial bilateral relations which exist between Australia and Mauritius . . . The High Commission in Port Louis would be Australia's first diplomatic post in an Indian Ocean Island State. Its establishment reflected the fact that Australia has important national interests in the Indian Ocean region. At present Australia has a non-resident High Commissioner accredited to Mauritius from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. Mauritius has maintained a High Commission in Canberra since 1977. Australia provides a modest development assistance programme to Mauritius, and maintains both trade and migration links.

The statement continued:

Mr Hayden recalled that he had been host to a visit by the Mauritian Minister for Foreign Affairs last December, and had hoped to make a return visit early this year before he had cancelled a series of African visits. He believed the establishment of a resident High Commission in Port Louis would add to the substance of Australia's relations with Mauritius and with the Indian Ocean region.

It is not often that a committee's recommendations are acted upon so promptly and I congratulate the Government on this initiative.

Question resolved in the affirmative.