Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Wednesday, 27 October 1971
Page: 2627


Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Government has provided less than half the amount of aid which has been sought by the Opposition which speaks for the Australian people in terms of the petitions with which the Parliament has been inundated week after week. I believe that Australians are shocked by the contrast between the Government's reckless spending for many dubious causes and this casual disregard for the misery and degradation which is besetting the people of East Pakistan. This crisis is the most likely catalyst for a world war facing world humanity in our time, and it needs more than some cursory and casual consideration of the aid factor. It needs a genuine involvement in all the matters which contribute to the problem.

So we are to make available some $5. 5m. I suppose for people who cam $60 a week that sounds like a lot of money, but I want to remind the Parliament that we are talking about $5. 5m in 1971 when we have in the current Budget which is still under consideration in this Parliament a surplus of no less than $630m which the Prime Minister (Mr McMahon) and others proudly have said is an unusually high Budget surplus. It seems to me on that basis we may have been able to squeeze out a little more. We are allocating $5.5m at a time when our overseas reserves stand at $2,974m again said to be at the bonanza level, an unprecedented level. We are spending it, indeed, at a time when we are pouring money into such reckless objectives as the acquisition of 24 Fill aircraft which are to cost us some $230m or $240m, and after all we are spending it in a period when we have been spending approximately $100m per annum since 1955 on the destruction of the Asian people who live in Vietnam - $100m every year for some 15 years. Yet when it comes to the opportunity to show the Asian people and the world that we as a country in the Asian region really care about the welfare of Asians, we can squeeze out but $5. 5m, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr N. H. Bowen) takes the trouble to indicate his enthusiasm and finds some eulogistic letter from somebody overseas to read to the Parliament.

We are speaking in times when this Government was prepared to say: 'We will underwrite at any cost the expenses associated with the Springbok tour of Australia to uphold apartheid'. Here was a chance to redress that disgraceful situation, and once again, in my view, the Government has let Australia down. People have been relatively generous, and I pay tribute io the organisations which have worked to raise the $2m referred to - Austcare, Freedom from Hunger and the churches. How wonderful it was yesterday to see members of the churches out together - people of all denominations, the Church of England bishops, the Catholic bishops, so many people anxious to do the right thing. I should mention the contribution of people such as my colleague, the honourable member for Kingston (Dr Gun), who took the trouble to go to India at his own expense as a medico and render treatment to these people in their hour of need. I know of others from this Parliament who went there to do likewise.

Just over a month ago I had the privilege of going not into the service to which I have referred but to an international conference on Bangla Desh conducted at New Delhi. This was a conference called by a consortium of Ghandian organisations, including the Ghandi Peace Foundation, and it was held to focus world opinion on the situation in East Pakistan, to help stir the conscience of the world. I suppose that is why I sought to speak in this debate tonight. The conference was designed to bring pressure on Islamabad to reverse its oppressive and its inhuman policies. We have heard reference to this by the honourable member for Isaacs tonight. He has denigrated those people who have shown enthusiasm for supporting the liberation forces in East Pakistan. When all is said and done, who would stir in any situation if he failed to be disillusioned by the fact that the Awami League in East Pakistan, which received such an overwhelming imprimatur from the people of that country to the extent of winning 167 out of 169 seats, was denied government. I think even members of the Country Party would concede that the Awami league is entitled to rule in that situation, having won 167 out of the 169 seats. Nearly 99 per cent of the seats were won in East Bengal and about 80 per cent of the popular votes cast over the entire country.

Sheik Rahman, who led the Awami League, had the support and the backing of the people, and General Yahya Khan indicated his willingness at one stage to accept the verdict of the people and indeed entered into negotiations with the leader of the Awami League. At this stage he referred to him as future Prime Minister, and it seemed as though there was to be a solution of this problem. But while the negotiations were taking place in a manner which was almost synonymous with what took place at Pearl Harbour when the negotiations were taking place in Washington, the army from West Pakistan struck out of the night and roared into the towns of East Pakistan and razed them to the ground. As you walk through the refugee camps, as I had the opportunity to do a month ago, you talk to but a few of the people - there are 10 million of them there - and you say: 'Why did you come and how far did you come?' They say: 'I have walked 200 miles, 300 miles'. You ask: Why did you leave your home?' They say: Because the troops arrived and set fire to our houses, and as we ran out they machine gunned us'. You ask: 'How many did you lose in your family?' The first casualty to whom I talked said: T lost my wife and 7 children'. So 10 million rushed into India, and India is bearing the great burden today of that onslaught of refugees, the onslaught of suffering humanity of proportions which are unprecedented in the history of the world. And we can raise but &5im.

Australians will hang their heads in shame. After all we are thinking only of the refugees at this point of time. It is true, as the honourable member has said, that it is not just sufficient to give aid to refugees. How many more millions are we going to give? How long will we keep this up? The real answer, of course, is of a political nature. So far this Government has not concerned itself with this aspect. Australia has to ask itself whether it has responded adequately to this great human tragedy involving as it does the mass slaughter of hundreds of thousands, millions of people being driven from their homes and even from their country, and involving famine, hunger, disease and deprivation in all its forms. Australia has made this contribution which has been of a practical nature but once again far too little and far too late.

There are figures to indicate what countries have given. They were made available by the Minister for Foreign Affairs in answer, to a question on 15th September 1971. It is interesting to note that countries referred to already in this debate have given more than what was attributed to them, because England, the United States, Canada and several other countries have not only given to the refugee appeal but they have also given aid to East Pakistan on a very large scale. The Minister will remember that in the answer he gave the figures were listed in 2 columns, one indicating relief for East Pakistan refugees as at August 1971 and the other indicating relief for East Pakistan as at August 1971. Canada gave $US3.4m to refugees and in addition gave $US6.9m to East Pakistan. This is the volume of aid which Australia is not giving. The United Kingdom gave $7. 8m to the refugees but it also gave S7.2m to East Pakistan. There are many other instances of the generosity of other countries contrasted with that of Australia.

All aid is just basic sustenance. It is not sufficient to put a country back on the rails again. We have a tendency and a psychology in this country - and the Government certainly has it - to deal with effects rather than with causes. In a way the Government would rather run the soup kitchen than stop the depression or knit socks for the soldiers instead of preventing the war. I believe we have to get right down to the basic issues of this situation. So many people are speaking in noble terms. The International Parliamentary Union did this recently and made a great statement. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference, to which I was a delegate, did not actually carry resolutions, because it is not its custom to do so, but expressed great sympathy. The Socialist Internationale, 470 Indian members of Parliament, hundreds of British Labour members of Parliament and groups from all over the world are saying wonderful, idealistic things but at this point of time not one government in the world has taken an initiative in the proper and appropriate place, which is the United Nations. As a member of the United Nations we should not be prepared to stand by and see another member of that body so recklessly abandoning all the principles which are sacrosanct and sacred, and that is of course that a party with a philosophy which obtains an overwhelming vote from the peoples should be entitled to govern. When a party gets 167 seats out of 168 seats that is undoubtedly the situation.

I would like to come back to the aid aspect. Let me make the point that up till now $157m has been promised by the countries of the world but of that amount only $20m has actually been made available for the relief of the refugee problem. I have with me authentic tables of figures which the Minister for Foreign Affairs is welcome to check if he has the inclination to do so. The great disaster began in March of this year - more than 6 months ago - yet only $20m has been forwarded. Do honourable members know that India is remitting $3m every day for the relief of the refugees in its own country? Yet the Minister for Foreign Affairs talks proudly of the Australian Government's gesture of giving a total of $5.5m. The cost to India of sustaining the refugees is no less than $20m a week. How long can this effort be sustained? Indeed, for how long can Australia and the other countries which have made contributions sustain the contributions of limited proportions which have already come to hand? Clearly we have to start dealing with the fundamental issues. We have to get the matter into the United Nations. We have to get the people back into their own country so that the wheels of industry can start to turn again and so that the peasants can get back to tilling the fields and working the ploughs. But not one word has been said about this aspect up to this point of time.

Finally I want to warn that there is a danger that the contributions which we are making might be expended in the wrong direction. A statement was made recently to this effect in the Bangla Desh news sheet. The statement was made by the group which has been operating since the Bangla Desh regime declared its independence. There is no doubt that some of the contributions being made by various countries is being spirited away and expended through West Pakistan as a means and as a technique of bringing those people into a subjective and sycophantic situation, a compliant situation, with an oppressive regime which fundamentally is responsible for the East Pakistanis' basic problem. This matter needs to be talked about at some length. But I urge the Minister to reconsider the allocation that has been made. It is clearly insufficient in terms of the problem on hand. In addition it is time that the Australian Government grasped the nettle, went to the United Nations and indicated that it is concerned with basic democratic principles and concerned with the need to give the people of East Pakistan the opportunity to govern themselves.

Mr ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Lucock)Order!The honourable member's time has expired.







Suggest corrections