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Wednesday, 27 October 1971
Page: 2625


Mr HAMER (Isaacs) - At the outset I should like to correct an error of fact made by the honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley). The United Kingdom refugee aid is $US37m, not pounds sterling. This alters his calculations by a factor of 2.4. Nevertheless tonight we are dealing, as both the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr N. H. Bowen) and the honourable member for Holt (Mr Reid) have said, with one of the greatest human catastrophes in history. The number of refugees and the level of support they require almost baffle the imagination. I do not see how we can hope to support refugees at a cost of less than $100 per head each year. We have to provide not only supplies but also the means of transport and distribution. With 10 million refugees this means a commitment by the world of $ 1,000m a year. I do not know for how long the world would be prepared to provide aid on this scale, but I fear that it would not be very long. The need is thus almost limitless and how much Australia provides depends ultimately on how much the people of Australia are prepared to sacrifice for this humanitarian cause. I am sure that all honourable members have been bombarded, as I have been, with letters, telegrams and forms all appealing for increased aid for these refugees. This is a magnificent sign of the commitment of Australians to the service of others, and I hope it will continue.

As I have said, the need for aid is a continuing one and I welcome the earlier undertaking by the Minister that the Government will keep this need constantly in mind. What we have done so far is very welcome. It has been appropriate aid. It has been prompt aid. All of it is going to the refugees for whom it is intended. But I think we should also mobilise directly the sympathy of the Australian community. Private aid to the Pakistani refugees has already amounted to something like $2m. I urge the Treasurer (Mr Snedden) to consider making private donations a legitimate income tax deduction, for this would increase greatly the flow of private aid. The Government, too, should also offer its facilities to see that the flow of private aid reaches the refugees for whom it is intended. The administrative conditions in the Indian State of West Bengal are such that much of the private aid given by other countries has not reached its destination. Even before the refugees arrived, the State Government of West Bengal, which was a Comunist government, has been suspended for a time by the Central Government because of disputes over administration and law and order. After the refugees began to arrive, presidential rule from Delhi was again invoked. I believe that the administrative task of caring for these 10 million or so refugees is far beyond the Indian Government and it is regrettable that it has refused offers by the United Nations, the Red Cross and other interested bodies to assist with the administration. I understand its motives because it involves some sacrifice of pride and sovereignty but, nevertheless, in the interests of the refugees I think that the Indian Government should be prepared to make these sacrificts

No matter how effective our humanitarian aid to these refugees is, it does not get to the root of the problem. We must not let these refugees become institutionalised like the Arab refugees in the Gaza strip or in Jordan. The only future for them is to get back to their farms and villages in East Pakistan. For this to be achieved a degree of cooperation will be required between India and Pakistan which has never been achieved in the 23 turbulent years of their history since their independence. The world must attempt to achieve this co-operation for without it the refugees have no future.

What must be done to make it possible for the refugees to return? First, Pakistan will have to offer some reasonable degree of autonomy to East Pakistan and control the operations of the Pakistan Army and, more particularly, their teenage auxiliaries to create an atmosphere of stability and confidence in East Pakistan, ft must guarantee also the return of land belonging to refugees which has been expropriated. I think it may also have to offer to have United Nations observers, with its army and support forces, to convince the world and the refugees that this is its policy.

This refugee disaster was provoked by the Pakistan Government and Army and they must take the major steps in doing what they can to repair the situation.

But it is not Pakistan alone which must take action; India, too, has much to answer for. At present, refugees are still coming out from East Pakistan at the rate of more than 100,000 a week, many of them fleeing because of the operations of the Indian supported liberation army. If India is sincere in its desire to minimise the refugee problem and to get the refugees back to their homeland quickly, the Indian Government must withdraw all support from the liberation guerrilla army and discourage its activities so far as this lies within the Government's power. I believe also that the Indians should accept, as the Pakistanis have done, the offer to have United Nations observer teams along the border between India and East Pakistan. This would facilitate the orderly return of the refugees who wish to go back to their villages. It would also reduce the threat of a direct conflict between the Indian and Pakistan armies. There are fewer than 100,000 Pakistan troops in East Pakistan and, embroiled as they are in counter guerilla operations, they present no conceivable threat to India. I believe that the moves of the Indian Army to the borders of East Pakistan and India's refusal to have a United Nations observer team on the borders are designed to force the Pakistan Army to move its forces to the border area and thus reduce its effectiveness in anti-guerrilla operations. This is, I consider, a discreditable activity by the Indians and one they should cease forthwith.

This is a very confused situation and it is hard to get the truth from conflicting and irreconcilable claims. I have given what I believe is a true picture and one that reflects little credit on either India or Pakistan who have allowed their mutual hatred to override their compassion for the 10 million refugees. I do not know whether it will be possible for anyone to induce Pakistan and India to co-operate, but we should continue to do all we can both directly and through the United Nations to achieve whatever is possible, for our overriding aim must be to achieve conditions so that these refugees can go home. In the meantime, of course, the humanitarian problem remains. I applaud the announcement the Minister has made tonight and hope that over future months it will be followed by further similar announcements. I urge him also to consider seriously the possibility of encouraging private aid in the way I have suggested.







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