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Thursday, 17 December 1992
Page: 5341

Senator HARRADINE —My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade. I refer to the devastation in Flores, Indonesia, caused by an earthquake and subsequent tidal wave, which has killed some 2,000 to 3,000 people and caused billions of dollars worth of damage. Is it not the fact that this is the worst natural disaster to occur in our region for the last 30 years, since the Gunung Agung volcano eruption? What is the Government's policy with regard to urgent aid for the area? As Australian NGOs such as ACR are very capable of making sure that aid hits the ground urgently, will the Minister give consideration to contributing on a dollar for dollar basis?

The PRESIDENT —Order. The time has expired.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am not sure whether it is the most serious disaster for the number of years that Senator Harradine describes, but it is certainly unquestionably a major tragedy. Latest figures from Indonesian authorities put the death toll, following the earthquake in Flores, at 1,912, with most of the deaths occurring in the Maumere area. There are some media reports indicating that the death toll may well be over 2,200. It is a matter, I guess, of just seeing, unhappily, what the final confirmed figure is.

  The Australian Government stands ready to offer such further assistance as is wanted by the Indonesian Government. The initial Australian assistance—valued, as I said yesterday, at some $200,000—arrived in Flores yesterday on two RAAF aircraft. The emergency supplies provided included: tents, tarpaulins, plastic sheeting, large water containers, generators, antibiotics and other medications, purification tablets and so on. President Suharto has expressed appreciation for that.

  We do stand ready to respond to further emergency requests from Indonesia and to participate in rehabilitation activity as requested. It is a matter of being responsive to Indonesian requests rather than really being able to do anything else just at the moment. A lot of coordination meetings are proceeding and, of course, there has been a very significant relief effort put in train by the Indonesian authorities themselves.

  I heard Senator Harradine's last suggestion about a possible dollar for dollar supplement to NGO funds in this area. That is an issue I will raise immediately with my colleagues Mr Kerin, the Minister for Trade and Overseas Development, the Treasurer and the Minister for Finance to see what it might be possible to do in this respect. But I cannot give an off the cuff response now.

Senator HARRADINE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Could the Minister also raise it with the Prime Minister, who has undertaken to provide dollar for dollar in regard to appeals by local NGOs for poverty alleviation in Australia? In view of the fact that the aid NGOs are able to make that money hit the ground urgently in Indonesia, could the Minister take that on board and ensure that something is done so as to encourage donations over the Christmas period by Australians?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I will take that further suggestion on board.