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Wednesday, 4 May 1983
Page: 223


Senator COLEMAN(10.29) —I take this opportunity as one of the older senators, in service if not in years, to congratulate you, Mr President, on your appointment to the office of President of the Senate. Having served under three of your predecessors, I know that you will uphold the standards already established in this place and that both sides can expect a fair and just adjudication whenever the occasion arises.

I will not detain the Senate for any length of time but I want to speak very briefly about freedom because it is a very precious commodity to me, as I am sure it is to other honourable senators. As one who was twice incarcerated for a few short hours perhaps it is more in my mind than in the minds of other honorable senators. I want to speak briefly about those people throughout the world who have not committed any crime but who are, nevertheless, incarcerated. I think particularly of those people who live under military juntas, fascist regimes and dictatorships, whose only crime-if one can describe it as such-is the desire for freedom for themselves and their people. I think of the mothers of the lost who daily parade their grief in the streets of South American countries who really do not know whether their sons and husbands are alive or dead or even whether they are amongst the bodies that were found quite recently. I think of the people in Chile, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Uruguay, El Salvador, Lebanon-the list is endless-and I think particularly of the small contribution that we in Australia can make in regard to that freedom. We hear almost daily of atrocities being committed, of people disappearing and inadequate justice being provided for those who perhaps fortunately are brought to trial. I think of the people of the church, people like Father Gore whose so-called crime was that he wanted a reasonable standard for the people he loves and was not prepared to stay silent and watch the exploitation of human beings.

I think tonight particularly of people like Karl Gaspar. There may be some honourable senators in this place who are not aware of this lay preacher who is at present incarcerated in the Philippines. I recognise that there is not a great deal that Australia or Australians can do about people such as Karl Gaspar except perhaps to use this forum to bring to the attention of foreign governments the fact that we are not prepared to sit back idly and allow to arise situations in which human rights do not prevail.

That final sentence relates to the advice that I have since received. This afternoon I was informed that whilst legal counsel may have access to Mr Gospar, it is not the counsel of his selection but the counsel provided by the Philippine authorities who are also the prosecutors. I know that this is not an isolated case. We hear all the time about people not obtaining justice as we know it but I believe it is incumbent on people in this Senate and those who have the use of forums such as this to bring to the attention of the people throughout Australia and other free countries, and to foreign governments who have representatives in this country, the fact that we are not prepared to tolerate a system which denies the basic human right of access to justice. By ' access to justice' I mean justice of the individual's own choosing, justice that will at least enable a person to put forward a case in his or her own right and to have the case determined by a court of law which will determine whether any impropriety or crime was committed or was about to be committed. I have some doubts that the Mr Karl Gaspar that I know of, who has been charged with subversion and inciting to rebellion, has the capacity for that type of action. He is a law abiding lay worker with a church who in the past has demonstrated a great love of people. I doubt that he would do anything that would put in jeopardy those he serves in the Philippines.