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Wednesday, 17 May 1972
Page: 2665


Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.

Mr WHITLAM - On behalf of the Australian Labor Party I support the programme which the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr N. H. Bowen) has announced. There are 2 great merits about it. The first is that it represents an increase - percentagewise a considerable increase - in Australia's assistance to the region. The second is that it represents a long term commitment. In consequence our neighbours will be able to plan ahead.

It might not be otiose to remind honourable members that under the Constitution this Parliament always has had the responsibility of passing laws with respect to external affairs under paragraph (xxix) of section 51 of the Constitution. Not only that but also with respect to the relations of the Commonwealth with the islands of the Pacific, under the following paragraph, (xxx). It has always, therefore, been envisaged that Australia, even in the old colonial days, should have a particular responsibility in this regard. It is for this reason that my Party is committed to establish a Pacific Islands Division within the Department of Foreign Affairs to second and support skilled personnel requested by Papua New Guinea and other islands of the Pacific for their civil and armed forces.

It is reassuring that the Government should now have made this increasing and long term commitment. It has to be acknowledged that in Fiji in particular there has been resentment at Australia's lack of interest in such commitments for the size and the period of such commitments. In the mid-1960s for instance, the Australian Government rejected an official request for a grant to Fiji on the ground that Fiji was Britain's political responsibility. This was not received very kindly in Fiji since Fiji has long been an Australian economic colony while it might have been a British political colony. All of Fiji's significant trading companies, commerce and banking companies are in the hands of Australian organisations. The sugar industry, Fiji's largest industry, is controlled by Australia. The international and regional airlines of Fiji are controlled from Australia through Qantas Airways Ltd. Now tourism is also being promoted from Australia which has benefited from all these enterprises in Fiji.

There is still resentment in Fiji in official as well as at widespread popular levels that Australian investors and Australian companies have shown so little interest in developing industries in Fiji. Australia has been long and increasingly interested in those enterprises in Fiji which provide a dividend and employment for Australians. One would hope that succeeding Australian governments will do what they can to ensure that Fiji is able to industrialise and to employ its large Fijian and Indian populations. The amount which has been made available under this programme is certainly an increase on amounts provided in earlier years. Honourable members will be able to see the figures for 1965 to 1970 in an answer that the Minister's predecessor gave to me on the 7th April last year. I asked the present Minister on the 11th April this year to bring these figuresup to date. It will be seen from the answer that the Minister's predecessor gave me in respect of Fiji that the amount of Australian aid rose from SA71.158 to SA838.149- a large escalation. Nevertheless, it is still small compared with Britain's aid which, in 1969 was$US6,494.000. But for Britain's aid Fiji's economic position would be very much weaker than it is. Fiji is in a region where the United States of America incomparably the most munificent country in all history has given very little. The answer I referred to shows that Fiji received in 1970 from the United States $US22,000 and in 1971 nothing. In his answer the Minister stated:

New Zealand has also granted assistance in education, defence, civil aviation, meteorology and health to Fiji. Total figures are not available but the aid provided includes the donations of the RNZAF site and buildings (valued at approximately $3m) as the site for the University of the South Pacific, and the training of Fijians in New Zealand.

I make passing reference to the position of other British colonies in this area. In 1969 Britain gave assistance to the Solomon Islands of $US7,3 15,000. Australia gave $A41.793. To the Gilbert and Ellice Islands in 1969-70 Britain gave assistance of $US1,294,000. Australia in 1969-70 gave $A34,198. To the New Hebrides condominium Britain in 1969 gave assistance of $US2,928,000. Australia in 1969-70 gave$A1 8,330. It is clear that while there is a long term increased commitment by the Australian Government, it does not bulk largely in our region when compared with commitments undertaken by Great Britain, whose geographic interest must clearly be so much less and whose political interest must be declining comparatively. She has given so very much more.

The Opposition supports the announcement by the Minister. It shows for the first time a long term commitment by Australia to the development of the countries in her region, these countries which in a great surge in the last couple of years have become independent members of the Commonwealth, members of the United Nations and neighbours who speak and vote for themselves. It is gratifying that the Prime Minister of Fiji will so soon be making a return visit. I believe that the Minister's announcement today will reassure him as to the nature and extent of Australia's increasing interest in his country, which in so many political, economic and social matters has been the forerunner for developments in our region.

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