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Tuesday, 5 October 1971
Page: 1863

Mr SINCLAIR (New England) (Minister for Primary Industry and Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs) - by leave - As honourable members will know, the Government has been following with close concern developments on the Indian subcontinent. The Prime Minister (Mr

McMahon) has on several occasions sent personal messages to the leaders of both India and Pakistan. To date the Government has provided$1. 5m in food, shelter and medical supplies to help alleviate the plight of the East Pakistani refugees at present in camps in India. At the time that this aid to the refugees was announced the Government stated that it would not necessarily be the limit of our assistance to the region. We said that we would keep closely in touch with the situation and assess, from time to time, both the needs of the peoples of the region and our capacity to help. We have continued to receive detailed reports on the situation from our missions in the area, from United Nations' sources and from visitors to the area, including some members of this House.

Reports from East Pakistan itself indicate that some areas face acute food shortages, and possible famine. The area has also been subject to considerable flooding in recent weeks. Earlier this year, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, U Thant, issued an appeal for emergency assistance for the people of East Pakistan. He asked that such assistance be channelled through the United Nations agencies particularly UNICEF and the world food programme. The United Nations has now established a relief organisation to assist in the reception and distribution of relief supplies in East Pakistan, and some donors such as the United States of America, Britain and Canada are channelling aid through it. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has on a number of occasions stated that the Government was keeping under review the course of events in East Pakistan, and would play its part in the provision of relief assistance.

The plight of the millions of Pakistanis who have left their homes, and the prospect of starvation faced by some of those who have remained behind, have caused the Government grave concern. The sufferings of the ordinary people of East Pakistan have also struck a deep chord of sympathy among all the people of Australia. The number of refugees in India is reported to be approaching nine million. There is no need for me to explain to honourable members the substantial economic burden which this problem of deep human suffering is imposing on the Indian Government. We have been informed that the

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees will shortly issue a renewed appeal for more international help.

In the light of the compelling need for aid and of the appeals made by the United Nations, the Government has decided to provide a further $1.5m in humanitarian assistance to the region. This will double Australia's contribution to the international emergency relief effort. It will bring our total aid to date to $3m. Of this additional aid $500,000 worth of rice will be given to India for emergency relief for the refugees. This is in accord with the Indian authorities preference for rice as a food grain for relief supplies in the refugee camps. It is of course additional to previous announcements of food and other aid to India. A similar amount of rice will be provided through United Nations agencies for distribution in East Pakistan. The provision of rice will be additional to Pakistan's normal allocation of aid wheat under the Food Aid Convention, valued at around $1.4m.

The remaining half million dollars will be divided between a $250,000 cash grant to the Secretary-General's appeal, part of which we expect will be used to pay freight costs on the rice shipment, and the provision through United Nations agencies of other urgently needed foodstuffs, such as edible oils. The precise composition of the shipment of foodstuffs will be decided upon as part of the broad international effort.

The Government shares the deep concern felt by Australians at the human suffering which has followed events in East Pakistan. While the Government is moved by compassion in providing the additional assistance, it does not regard it as an act of charity but as a fulfilment of our obligations to the international community. We will continue to take a close interest in developments on the Indian subcontinent and to play our part in providing aid for the people of the region. I present the following paper:

Aid to India and Pakistan - Ministerial Statement, 5th October 1971

Motion (by Mr Howson) proposed:

That the House take note of the paper.

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