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Thursday, 22 November 1973
Page: 3685

Mr LYNCH - I ask the Prime Minister: Will his Government agree to re-examine the level of aid to northern Africa as set out by the Minister for Foreign Affairs in his Press release of 16 November? Is it a fact that the aid promised by his Government amounts to too little too late and does not measure up to the Government's claims to special relationships and policy initiatives in Africa? Specifically, is he aware that many Australians and people overseas regard his Government's decision to make a cash contribution of a mere $17,000, plus some milk biscuits and wheat, as being totally miserable when set against the bench mark of need, against the target of the Australian Council for Overseas Aid, which sought a public contribution of $200,000, a target which was reached a week after the campaign began; and against the priorities of his Government, which spent in excess of$1m for a painting from overseas? I do not quibble with the decision to buy that painting, but I point out that the same Government can find only $17,000 for people who are in need of assistance which can save lives. I ask - not for any party political reason - whether-

Mr Morris - Oh, no.

Mr LYNCH - The honourable gentleman and others can seek to make light of the question, but I ask the Prime Minister: Is he prepared to re-examine the extent of the aid which has been provided?

Mr WHITLAM - The Government is constantly examining how far and how fast it can help in the emergency in Ethiopia, as it was in the emergency on the other side of the continent - at the same latitude - in the Sarhelian countries. Overnight or early this morning I was in fact reading the latest cables from our Ambassador. The unfortunate position is that communications in this area are very difficult indeed. The quickest way in which we were able to help was to allocate this amount of money. It is not a large sum, of course. It is a sum which is the merest chicken feed for this country. But it was able to be put into use immediately, and that was all that could be put into use immediately.

There have been offers of assistance from, for instance, medical students and many qualified and humanitarian people in Australia. The difficulty is to get them to the areas affected. Aircraft and land vehicles are not available to transport goods or people. For instance, particular arrangements have had to be made to deliver the protein biscuits. The Ethiopian Minister concerned has been involved himself in getting them to that area.

Our Ambassador to Ethiopia has so reported. I will give honourable members an instance of the difficulties that exist in this area. Three Australian journalists have arrived in Ethiopia. It is of the greatest embarrassment to the authorities that they cannot get them to the affected area and that they could not accommodate them if they did get there. That is part of the trouble with the medical students whose case was brought to our notice a couple of weeks ago by the honourable member for Adelaide and which I was able to discuss in Adelaide last Friday.

Questions of transport, accommodation and language make it extraordinarily difficult for individuals to help on the spot. Even where we have provided something which Australia produces and which is very relevant, such as these protein biscuits, there is real difficulty in getting them delivered to the areas affected. The particular cable that I was reading in the early hours of this morning - I suppose it was not really long before dawn - indicated that the best thing we could do now would be to purchase 4-wheel drive vehicles for the purpose. I can assure the honourable gentleman that my Foreign Minister, Senator Willesee, is reviewing this matter constantly and that I am in constant touch with him about it. We want to see people there who can help. We want to get the goods there that are needed. We have done all that can be done at this stage, but we are looking for the opportunity to do more when there is any chance of success.

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