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Wednesday, 15 September 1971
Page: 1309

Mr REID (HOLT, VICTORIA) - I desire to ask a question of the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Is the Government aware that there is mounting agitation among the churches, voluntary agencies and certain sections of the public concerning the Australian Government's small contribution to the refugee problem in India? This catastrophe is the greatest human disaster this century and the people of Austrafia are demanding that the Government come to the assistance of these impoverished people in a more sacrificial way. That is evident from a fast commenced by 3 young men on the steps of the Melbourne General Post Office. As Australia prides herself as a free peaceloving country which is ever ready to come to the assistance of people in times of need, is it the intention of the Government to provide assistance commensurate with the size of this catastrophe? Also, as it is costing the Indian Government $100m a month to maintain the refugees will the Minister bring this matter before Cabinet with a view to providing an immediate grant of $10m in cash and and material aid to help relieve the suffering and human indignity of some 8 million East Pakistani refugees?

Mr N H Bowen (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) -I am aware of the considerable concern being expressed in many quarters for the plight of the refugees from East Pakistan. The honourable member for Holt refers to what he calls the small contribution from Australia. I do not think there is much I can add to what I said yesterday on this subject in answer to a question from the honourable member for Moreton. But this at least should be said: No matter what aid Australia gave, the magnitude of this problem is such that the aid would appear small. There are more refugees involved than half the population of Australia. Also I want to say that the aid which Australia gave was timely. Our aid was the third on the ground; it was completely appropriate and we have received the warmest commendation from the authorities that are involved. This does not answer the question as to whether the magnitude of this problem requires further review. As to that, of course. I cannot at question time commit the Government or myself as to what will be done but I repeat the assurance which I gave yesterday that this matter is under active consideration at this time.

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