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Tuesday, 10 October 1972
Page: 2320


Mr REID (Holt) - I would like to commend the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr N. H. Bowen) for his statement on overseas aid and the booklet that honourable members have received giving the particulars of the Government's foreign aid policies. It is a well presented document containing a great deal of information and will be welcomed by most people interested in overseas aid. The Government's economic assistance to New Guinea and Indonesia is commendable and praiseworthy, as much has been achieved in those countries in recent years with rehabilitation programmes. However, in emergencies we fail badly, and I wish to quote 1 or 2 instances with which I have had first hand experience. The first is the great cyclone which ravaged the off-shore islands and coastal regions of East Pakistan on the night of 12th and 13th November 1970. I have been back to those islands twice since that cyclone, which is now claimed to be, the greatest natural catastrophe this century and there is no doubt about that. Shortly after the cyclone I saw just what did happen. To the victims of the greatest natural catastrophe this century all we provided was $425,000.

This time last year, of course, we had the refugee problem in India, mainly in West Bengal. The Government provided $5,500,000, but of course $2m of that was not used because India's invasion of East Pakistan quickly brought an end to the refugee problem. Even though repeated calls were made by many members in this House, by me in particular, to send cash and not food aid, that money was not spent. Had cash been sent I am sure that many of the refugees in the camps could have been saved. There are still some 20 million people homeless in Bangladesh and large scale assistance is urgently needed to avert famine conditions at the present time. For almost 2 years I have been endeavouring to get the Government interested in a rehabilitation programme. However it has shown little interest to date.

When I was in Bangladesh earlier this year I spoke to Sheik Mujibur Rahman. He was interested in the Government building fifty 100-bed hospitals in various centres throughout the country. Again he wanted the Government to undertake programmes to rehabilitate the devastated area of land to get it back into production. He wanted the Government to provide irrigation and build roads and schools. This is the sort of programme in which the Government should be engaged. It should be engaged in construction work. Even though strong representations have been made by other people and myself, we certainly have had little influence to date. At the present time the Government's assistance to Bangladesh is little different from that of a voluntary agency - and I might say a small one at that. The situation in Bangladesh is still one of grave concern. This is the reason why most voluntary agencies are directing their major efforts in this region. For example, the. Christian Organisation for Relief and Rehabilitation has undertaken a $30m programme for rehabilitation in Bangladesh. The World Council of Churches last July spent $8m of a $13m programme. CARE and Oxfam, of course, have spent millions in recent months, and the Australian voluntary agencies have taken up special programmes running into millions of dollars.

The Minister in his statement said that the Government's aid programme was motivated on humanitarian grounds. I would just like to point out that $4m or even $6m is certainly not a sacrificial contribution when 20 million people are homeless. What is the Government doing in Bangladesh: The Minister in reply to a question I asked in Parliament 2 weeks ago stated that we are providing food aid, galvanised iron sheeting and 4-wheel drive trucks, and that 3 aircraft are under charter to carry relief supplies. I know assistance has been provided in other directions. This sounds impressive. However it is not an amount of which we can fee) proud when it is compared with the total area of need. I say again that there must be a starting point. Our aid must be compared with something, otherwise it is meaningless and has no beginning. The United Nations has stated that $ 1,200m is still needed for rehabilitation work in

Bangladesh. 1 say again that any aid programme must be compared with the overall area of need. Otherwise the aid provided is only a statistic and is not therefore being provided on humanitarian grounds. The history of humanitarian work is long and proud, rich and diverse. It develops an individual and community conscience, together with a desire to eliminate all forms of suffering, to spread knowledge and to bring about social justice and international peace. These precious needs must always remain the basic principles of any humanitarian motive.

The number of people in urgent need throughout Asian countries continues to increase each year. In other words the gap widens because the total area of need is unknown. Today we have the resources and technical knowhow to come to grips with many of these great human problems. However, we fail to do so because we are not tuned in on the frequency of need. To overcome the problems of hunger, poverty and neglect in those countries I would like to see the Government give consideration to setting up an advisory council on development aid, membership of which would come from voluntary agencies, churches, universities, banks, youth organisations and so on, as well as from government nominees. Such a council could determine our aid programmes and priorities. With poverty in the world continuing to rise at an alarming rate, the time has now arrived for the Government to seek a much closer liaison with voluntary agencies, many of which have had many years of experience in aid programmes.

While the Government continues to base its aid programme on a limited area of need it becomes even more important that a full utilisation be obtained of funds that are available. For this reason I again suggest as a beginning that 10 per cent of any increase in Colombo Plan funds should be channelled through voluntary agencies, because in many instances these funds would be far better utilised and would reach the areas of greatest need, that is, the villages. I believe that we must do far more to raise the priority of aid in Australia and for this result to be achieved a much closer working liaison must be developed between the Government and voluntary agencies. I say that because it is a

Government responsibility to help to stimulate a greater interest in the private sector, as this in turn supplements Government aid.

Another matter I wish to raise is that in an emergency the Government can authorise the expenditure of only $25,000 without calling the Cabinet together. This is a much smaller figure than most voluntary agencies in Australia can allocate in an emergency. I feel that the figure should be at least $100,000, and that after the Prime Minister has consulted the Treasurer and Minister for Foreign Affairs he should have the power to allocate up to Sim in times of emergency situations such as in 1970 when a cyclone struck East Pakistan. I repeat that this is not a large amount of aid in a programme of $220m and I trust that some consideration will be given to these proposals.







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