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Tuesday, 14 September 1971
Page: 1228

Mr KILLEN (MORETON, QUEENSLAND) - My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and concerns the plight of Pakistani refugees. While acknowledging what the Australian Government has already done and the honourable gentleman's reluctance to convey the impression of intruding into the domestic arrangements of 2 sovereign nations, can the honourable gentleman be persuaded to ask explicitly of the High Commissioners for India and Pakistan in Australia whether any specific assistance can be given by Australian charitable bodies which are deeply concerned about the plight of these people? In particular, would the honourable gentleman ask of the 2 High Commissioners whether there is any need for milk biscuits to be supplied to children who, I understand, are dying in their thousands from stark starvation?

Mr N H Bowen (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) -I am aware of the deep concern of the honourable member for Moreton in regard to this matter. Certainly the Government and, I know, the people of Australia share his deep concern at the tragedy of the refugees from East Pakistan. I will not go over what has already been debated and fully stated in this House as to the efforts which have been made not only in the area of aid up to the present time. The House will be aware that this Government was the third in the world on the scene to supply aid of $lm and we have since given $500,000 worth of rice. We offered wheat but those concerned did not want it at that stage because they had some in store. We have been taking steps to try to get at what is really the origin of the conflict in East Pakistan. We have assisted the efforts made by the United Nations and also some attempts made under the aegis of the Commonwealth of Nations; they are both Commonwealth countries as we are. The Prime Minister has also made efforts to deal with this matter in personal correspondence.

But I come to the substance of the honourable member's question, which is the current situation. The problem is so large with over 8 million refugees - more than half the population of this country - that it is clearly one that we cannot cope with alone in any real sense. We are endeavouring to work with other countries and with the United Nations in dealing with this problem. We have it under the closest review. We are constantly in touch with the 2 Governments, particularly when we are arranging aid which is being administered by the Government of India. We are closely in touch with that Government as to the precise requirements on the ground and the facilities for handling aid when it arrives. I will take up the particular question which the honourable member has raised. But I assure the House that at present we have this under very active consideration.

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