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Wednesday, 6 October 1971
Page: 1993

Mr REID (Holt) - I was pleased with yesterday's announcement by the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Sinclair) of the increased foreign aid contribution of $1.5m to assist the East Pakistani refugees in India and the displaced persons in East Pakistan. I was particularly pleased to hear that the Government proposed sending $500,000 worth of rice to East Pakistan, as many of these people face famine conditions brought about by disturbances within the country. I say this because any aid that is provided by the Government must be provided free of political motives and must be given more on need and on humanitarian grounds. However, after some months of representations it goes without saying that I am disappointed with the Government's increased contribution of$1. 5m. I have no hesitation in saying that absolutely no notice has been taken of my strong representations over a long period of time and I am beginning to wonder whether I have been wasting my time. I regret having continually to raise this matter in Parliament and in other ways. However, I would have thought that by now the Government might have got the message, that is, that this is the greatest catastrophe of this century and that we have a moral right and responsibility to come to the assistance of these unfortunate people in a more sacrificial way. To date little notice has been taken of my pleas or for that matter the pleas of anyone else. I am beginning to wonder who makes the decisions for the Government.

I would like to know who are the experts in this field and how they reach these decisions. When no notice is taken of one's representations one begins to wonder just what his role in this Parliament really is. If assistance provided by the Government for the survivors of the tragic cyclone last November, which ravaged the off-shore islands and coastal regions of East Pakistan, is any indication of our concern for these people, as only $425,000 was provided, I am not really surprised that only $3m has been provided to date for the relief of Pakistani war refugees.

I have said before in this House that the Government is not tuned in on the frequency of human suffering or for that matter major catastrophes which occur from time to time around the world. It is quite obvious to me that we have no foreign policy in regard to such matters. We just sit back and do no more than we have to do, or again we compare what we are doing with what is being done by other countries of comparable size, which, of course, produces very little help for the millions of refugees and displaced persons who are already dyingin their thousands each day. How much longer are we to procrastinate while millions die? When will the Government really sit up and take notice of this great catstrophe the greatest this century? I repeat that this is the greatest catastrophe of this century. This catastrophe must be tackled on a far greater scale than anything else we have done in this field. Without a doubt there will be mortality on an unprecedented scale unless economic assistance on a war footing is quickly provided. One of the reasons for the present high rate of mortality is the lack of protein and the conditions under which so many of the refugees are living in these camps. However insofar as East Pakistan is concerned, some of the best rice growing areas are still unproductive because of salinity deposits which are a direct result of the cyclone last year. When I was there recently some 90 per cent of the people were still dependent on relief supplies whereas previously this was an area which produced a surplus of rice.

Another reason for the acute shortage of food in East Pakistan is because of genocide in many towns and villages which has resulted in nearly 9 million refugees leaving their farms. Many more millions in East Pakistan have been prevented from sowing their crops because of civil war. Hundreds of thousands of these people are continually on the move within the country to avoid the liberation army and that of the government. Also when one considers' that the whole Bengal delta is in the grip of the worst monsoon post-war the transportation of relief supplies has become a most difficult operation. The result has been that many millions of East Pakistanis already face famine conditions. The present situation is critical. Unless large scale assistance is quickly provided acute famine conditions and ultimately death face millions of these people, particularly young children. I trust that the $500,000 worth of rice provided by the Government is quickly followed by greater assistance.

In order to assist the Government to make a quick decision on this great human problem I shall refer to some statistics from other countries which have channelled funds through the United Nations for the East Pakistan refugees in India. Of course much more aid has been channelled directly through voluntary agencies and the Government of India. To the end of September, 48 countries had contributed funds through the United Nations. All but a few have given cash donations. India urgently needs these cash donations to buy food from these countries. To date the total pledges in cash and kind which have been channelled through the world food programme is $109,835,632. Of this amount $53. 3m has been a cash contribution and $56. 6m has been provided in material goods such as rice, milk powder, edible oil and other foodstuffs, shelter material, medical supplies, clothing, blankets, etc. Any of the above items are urgently needed as is cash lo buy food and material goods in India. To make matters worse, the United Nations fund is practically exhausted at the present time. It has been officially stated that only $2.7m is left. Therefore the Australian Government should immediately and without fear of political implications substantially increase its contribution through the United Nations and other voluntary agencies working in these areas. My reason for saying this is that Sweden which is 'a country half the size of Australia has already contributed $6m. The United Kingdom $7.lm and the United States of America $70.5m.

Australia prides itself as a free, peaceloving country, ever ready to come to the assistance of others in times of need. Well, never before have so many people in the world needed succour as the 20 million refugees and displaced persons in East and West Bengal. Repeated calls for assistance have been made by the Governments of India and East Pakistan.* United Nations and other world leaders have warned of the gravity of the situation as millions of peasant farmers and small shopkeepers must inevitably die unless immediate large scale assistance is provided. Already 100.000 children have died and a further 500,000 are doomed to die before Christmas. At the present time the Australian people are looking for strong moral leadership. They expect the Government to come to the assistance of these impoverished people in a more sacrificial way. If Australia is to continue to call itself a Christian community we can no longer procrastinate while millions die.

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