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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 2 Hansard (19 May) . . Page.. 311 ..

MR RUGENDYKE (continuing):

What we have not seen until recently is the tests. It is for their tests, rather than actually having the weapons, that the rest of the world now stands in judgment of India and threatens it with sanctions.

Where will those sanctions fall? Who, among the 900 million people who live in India, will feel the brunt of international retribution? India will receive a total of about $US5 billion in foreign aid this year. As the amount actually disbursed in one year is always lower than the amount approved, it is expected that that will actually translate into about $US3 billion. Mr Speaker, to put that in perspective, it is less than one per cent of India's gross domestic product. Cutting one per cent from India's GDP will not hurt the Government that ordered the tests. Sanctions will hurt the poor, as such sanctions always do. Sanctions will hurt the 10-year-old girl in rags who spends her day begging at the traffic lights outside the Hyatt Hotel, whereas the real international business will go on uninterrupted. These sanctions are as hollow as the comprehensive test ban treaty.

By the way, what is Australia's outstanding contribution to Indian aid? I am not sure of the figure now, but when the Coalition Government came to power in 1996 it stood at about $20m. As soon as Mr Howard drew first breath in government, that figure was slashed. However, there was a mistake; someone had forgotten to tell the Prime Minister and his Foreign Minister that they were both due in India later that year for a countrywide promotion called "Australia-India: New Horizons". When they were made aware of this fact, most, but not all, of the funding was returned. The only thing you can take from this backflip is that they were clearly more concerned about a loss of face than they were about assisting India's poor.

But they need not have worried because, despite spending $6m on the new horizons promotion and despite extensive arrangements being made for his arrival, the Prime Minister of Australia stood up the Indians. This was the second time in three years that an Australian Prime Minister had promised to visit India and had not shown up. Mr Howard broke the arrangements at the eleventh hour and, not surprisingly, the Indian Government and business people were not amused. But the Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, did go to India and, by way of offering something to his hosts, he promised the Indian media that the Australian Prime Minister would visit in 1997. It should surprise no-one to learn that this turned out to be another lie. Mr Howard did not go to India, and now I guess he has a reason never to go.

Australia's involvement with India is longstanding. The first export to leave this country was a shipload of cedar bound for Calcutta. Indians have fought alongside Australian troops in most of the major conflicts of this century. More Indians than Australians or New Zealanders died at Gallipoli. But we are not much of a friend to India. When the opportunity was on offer, in 1996, for Australia to cement its relationship with this most ancient of countries, the Prime Minister had more important things to do. We simply did not care enough to make an effort to build our relationship with India. If we had made an effort to befriend India, we may now be in a better position to bargain with India. Losing a fair-weather friend generally does not bother anyone too much. But, when it comes to standing on the high moral ground and beating our breast, Australia is in the front line.

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