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Tuesday, 5 October 1971
Page: 1864

Mr BEAZLEY (Fremantle) - The Opposition welcomes the statement made by the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr

Sinclair) as far as it goes, indicating that another $1.5m in food, shelter and medical supplies is being donated by the Australian Government to assist in this crisis. However, we feel that the aid is far too tied to specific commodities. In the administration of this form of relief, a grant of financial assistance in foreign exchange to the Indian Government, and I presume also to the Pakistani Government, would give a greater flexibility to their aid programmes.

I do not know what the current figure is but on the latest figures I saw the Indian Government had spent on refugees 120 crores of rupees. I understand that a crore represents 10 million rupees. Also, donations from outside amounted to 8.2 crores which is one-fifteenth of what the maintenance of refugees had cost the Indian Government. This expenditure has meant that all sorts of development projects in India have had to go by the board because that country's budgetary effort has been distorted by this sudden and unexpected expenditure on 9 million people who haderupted over their borders into India as a result of the crisis in East Pakistan.

The Minister mentioned the Indian Government's preference for rice in the refugee camps. However, he slurred over the question of wheat in East Pakistan itself. There is no statement that the Government of Pakistan prefers rice to wheat. On the contrary, there is a reference to the fact that the Government of Pakistan receives some wheat aid now.

Mr Sinclair - My understanding is that the Government also prefers rice for East Pakistan.

Mr BEAZLEY - Yes. One of the factors about the preference for rice is that although there are considerable wheat consuming populations in both parts of the Indian sub-continent, these people do not have the means of turning wheat into immediately nutritious and edible food as they do in the handling of rice. I remind the House of the extremely generous contributions that were made by Sir Paul Hasluck during the Bihar famine. These contributions were worth $35m and anyone who can screw this amount of money out of the Australian Treasury has my admiration. This contribution was in the form of 580,000 tons of wheat. This type of aid was made feasible when Sir Paul Hasluck set up in India 6 magnificent modern bakeries each of which, as 1 remember, had the capacity to produce 1 million loaves of bread a day. If we turn wheat into bread we have an immediate palatable means of supplying food to people even if they are traditional rice eaters. That seemed to me to be one of the valuable features of the aid that was given by Australia in that earlier crisis.

I am sure that both the Indian and Pakistani Governments would be grateful for financial assistance to spend in the ways that occur to them immediately. I do not belittle the expenditure by Australia of another $1.5m for 9 million refugees. However, anybody looking at this contribution could assume that it will not mean that there will be a vast transformation of the position of the refugees. If rice can be obtained from Burma any foreign exchanges can be given to obtain that rice, or if rice can be obtained from other neighbouring countries, a financial grant by the Australian Government as a form of aid is something worth considering. This form of assistance would enable India, or Pakistan for that matter, to mobilise the productive resources of other countries than Australia. If the preference is for rice, our capacity to provide it is not as great as is that of some of the neighbours of India and Pakistan. Therefore I ask the Government again to consider not merely grants in kind and some gFants in cash to meet freights and some grants in personnel to carry out medical work, but also financial assistance to 2 countries which are notoriously short of foreign exchange to enable them to draw on the resources of countries other than Australia at Australia's expense.

I do not believe that monopoly of concern for this sort of thing is on either side of the House. But I ask that there be a restoration of the idea of adequacy of effort which seemed to me to be one of the characteristics of a former Foreign Minister when this sort of crisis occurred. I would remind honourable members that the Chifley Government during the time of Britain's crisis put through United Kingdom aid Acts amounting to £45 m in the days when the basic wage was £4 5s a week. That Government also gave £25m to the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund. There was a conception of raising a sum of money that wouldmake some real impact on the situation. Welcome as the $1.5m worth of aid is, let us face the fact that we cannot regard a contribution of this size to be spent on a population of 9 million people, which is almost equal to the population of Australia, as being a very, very significant one.

Debate (on motion by Mr Graham) adjourned.

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