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Thursday, 15 September 1983
Page: 865


Mr PEACOCK (Leader of the Opposition)(10.22) —I move:

That this House-

(1) notes with grave concern the recent escalation of violence in the Lebanon and in particular abhors the provocative attacks on members of the multi- national peace-keeping force by Syrian-backed militiamen, and

(2) urges the phased withdrawal of foreign troops from the Lebanon and the re- establishment of peaceful co-existence amongst the Lebanese people.

I will make a couple of introductory remarks. Firstly, I appreciate the fact that the Government indicated that it would call on this motion. Yesterday, when I moved it, I requested that it be taken immediately, but that was unsatisfactory to the Government. I do appreciate the Government calling on the motion today. Secondly, as the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) will indicate, the Government wishes to amend this motion. The Minister has been kind enough to advise me in advance of the nature of his amendment. Whilst not wanting to cut across his remarks in speaking to that amendment-it having been foreshadowed to me in an informal way-I think I am bound to say that, having read it carefully, I cannot accept it as an amendment to my motion, but the Opposition is not prepared to divide on the issue.

I express the view in relation to the amendment that the Foreign Minister will move that it does not refer to the recent escalation of violence in the Lebanon. My motion refers particularly to the dangers inherent in the attack by the Syrian backed militiamen on the multinational peacekeeping force. The Government 's foreshadowed amendment makes no mention of this cowardly attack. It does mention the Palestine Liberation Organisation. It also ought to refer to Syria. In addition, it should be drafted so as to call on the Government of Syria to reach agreement with the Government of Lebanon on the withdrawal of Syrian troops from the Lebanon. Because the amendment does not do those things the Opposition cannot accept it. But I appreciate the co-operation the Government has given on the matter and particularly thank the Foreign Minister for giving me notice. I trust he takes my difference of view on his amendment in the spirit in which it is put; namely, that I cannot accept it for those reasons. I do not take this course in order to make any party political points whatsoever.

I am sure all members of the House would join me in expressing their gravest concern about the current situation in the Lebanon. I do not use those words lightly, because the extent of the human tragedy and the implications for international peace and security of the latest bout of violence and genocide are very great indeed. The Opposition is acutely aware of the great pain and sorrow that the fighting in Lebanon is causing, particularly in Australia's Lebanese community. We express our deepest sympathy for those people.

There are two fundamental objectives for which the great majority of the Lebanese people are striving. They want to work towards a resolution of their sectarian conflicts. To help them do so, they want the expulsion of all foreign forces from their territory. There can be no solution to Lebanon's internal conflicts until sovereignty is restored to the Lebanese people.

The multinational peacekeeping force has played an important role in trying to maintain peace in the Lebanon. Its relative success has contributed to the decision by the Israeli Government to mount a partial withdrawal of its forces. It is particularly disturbing to note that the vacuum left by the Israelis in the Shouf Mountains east of Beirut has been filled by rival Druze and Christian militiamen. The massacres-it is reported that 260 people were killed between 4 September and 7 September-and the subsequent shelling by artillery of Beirut by the Syrian backed Druze militiamen are, to put it mildly, tragic.

From the point of view of international stability, the killing by Druze artillery of two American marines and a French colonel is just as tragic. This seemingly deliberate attack on the peacekeeping force has left the Italian, French, British and United States governments with a very grim choice. Either they withdraw, thereby abandoning the laudable objectives of a peacekeeping force which represents one of the few real chances for peace in the Lebanon, or they actively defend their positions and retaliate against what are nothing but cowardly attacks.

I believe all members of the House would welcome the decision by the Americans, supported by the British and the French, to show their determination to defend themselves when attacked and to maintain their effectiveness as a peacekeeping force in the Lebanon. Their efforts in supporting those trying to restore Lebanese sovereignty must be encouraged by all countries concerned with peace in the region. Equally, those who are attempting to undermine the peacekeeping force are serving very badly the cause of peace in the Middle East. It is cause for particular concern that the Syrian Government is using the Druze militiamen in order to advance its interests-interests which have nothing to do with the restoration of Lebanese sovereignty and with a stable and secure Middle East.

The assistance given by the Syrians, and by countries which in turn are supporting Syrian efforts, is inflaming the sectarian feeling in Lebanon and is contributing to the failure to find a negotiated settlement to restore Lebanese sovereignty. The Syrians have for many years made perfectly clear their position towards the Lebanese. They have never recognised Lebanon as an independent State and they have never recognised the Lebanese Government. Instead, they have steadfastly maintained their objective of incorporating Lebanon into Syria. The partial withdrawal of Israeli forces from Lebanon has been seen by Syria as an opportunity to pursue further what are undoubtedly its longer term objectives.

I also draw the attention of the House to reports which suggest that the Syrian backed Druze militiamen are being supported, in some instances directly, by the Palestinians and even the Iranians and the Libyans. If those reports are true- and there is much evidence to support them-those groups must take some responsibility for the attacks on the multinational peacekeeping force and for the incitement of sectarian warfare in Lebanon which has been so serious that the country is threatened with its third civil war in just over 20 years. The sudden and serious escalation of violence in the Lebanon, caused directly by this foreign intervention, is threatening the very delicate security of the whole region.

I do not think the House needs to be reminded of the enormous implications for world peace of a major confrontation in the Middle East. We saw some years ago in this nation an endeavour to politicise for their own sake differences over the Middle East. I do not believe that will be the attitude of the parties in the Parliament today, although I will touch on a critical element at the end of my speech. The harsh reality facing both the Government and the Opposition in viewing events in the Middle East is to try to ensure that the divisions within the Australian community are kept within the bounds inherent within those groups , for over it all is the implication for world peace of a major confrontation in the Middle East. It is sufficient to say that continual provocation of sectarian violence by foreign forces and repeated attacks on the multinational peacekeeping force could lead to the ever-growing involvement of outside powers and the possibility of a major confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States.

The incitement to violence is, therefore, dangerous, grossly irresponsible and totally inhumane. It is the view of the Opposition that, in spite of our geographic isolation from the Middle East, Australia can play a constructive and responsible diplomatic role in the region, and our contribution to the Sinai peacekeeping force has shown how useful a role Australia can play in that area, in that manner and in that direction. That peacekeeping force has proved to be central to the success of the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt and without the Sinai peacekeeping force the Accords would have long since lapsed. Yet its success has been remarkable and it has furthered peace between Israel and Egypt. It has allowed for a reasonable, responsible and stable withdrawal of Israeli forces from part of the Sinai and it has contributed to a growing confidence and understanding in Egyptian-Israeli relations.

The Labor Government has I believe recognised that Australia, by way of the multinational force and observers, is playing a vital role in maintaining peace in an important part of the Middle East. An Australian withdrawal would not only jeopardise the MFO but also could well undermine the Camp David Accords. As I have said, our contribution has without doubt raised our standing in the region. I have said it today and I have said it outside Parliament. We can use that greater strength to make a diplomatic contribution in the Lebanon. The Government must, in the first place, continue to express its strong support for Lebanese sovereignty and for the phased withdrawal of foreign forces from Lebanon with, in the short run, the exception of the multinational peacekeeping force. The Government must also provide strong support in international forums for the work of the multinational peacekeeping force. The greater the support that peacekeeping force receives from the international community, the greater the opportunity it has of contributing to an effective solution of the crisis in Lebanon.

It is extremely important when making statements on this extremely delicate issue which touches at the hearts of so many people within the Australian community and which has such grave strategic ramifications that the Government moves in considered and measured ways. One point of criticism which I would make and which I must refer to follows now, for I note that at a mass last Sunday to commemorate the assassination of President Elect Gemayel the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade (Mr Lionel Bowen) said that Australia would provide 'physical, moral and all support to the cause of justice in Lebanon'. Later in the same speech he said:

Nothing that is needed will be left undone. I will give you that promise.

I am certain that the House will agree that the words of the Minister were unquestionably well meaning and were directed to a community in Australia which feels deeply and grievously about this issue. But there is more than an element of extravagant use of language in the words chosen by the Deputy Prime Minister. In such circumstances this can certainly create both embarrassment and discomfort for a government. Of course, the Minister cannot, I assume, literally mean to say that Australia will provide 'anything' that is needed to help the Lebanon. But it is this sort of loose talk that creates rising and indeed false expectations among communities. It can let them down tragically and can be in its consequence totally misleading. It illustrates the vital need for Ministers- particularly the Deputy Prime Minister and the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke)-to speak with very great care and precision on issues which relate to national or global security. It is particularly true, of course, when a Minister is speaking on a subject relevant to a colleague's portfolio. I could develop that point a great deal further. I do not wish to.

I think it is important that, albeit that the Opposition cannot accept the amendment foreshadowed by the Government, the House express its concern. In referring to the foreshadowed amendment I have indicated my reservations about, indeed my disagreement with, the way in which it is worded. But the critically important issue is that the House not only has a view but also gives the Foreign Minister a greater degree of purchase and leverage in diplomatic negotiation with an expression of viewpoint from this Parliament. It would be rare for us to agree at all times on matters that come before the House. I still have deep disappointment, as do members on this side of the House, that the Government was not prepared last week to accept the Opposition's amendment condemning the Soviet Union for its barbaric act in shooting down a Korean airliner. I noted with more than passing interest that foreign Ministers of the European Community were outraged when, at a meeting of European Foreign Ministers, the Greek Foreign Minister refused to permit a resolution which contained that condemnation. Whilst the Opposition did not express its outrage and allowed that motion to go through, I reiterate that on an issue such as this I still believe that we should have passed a resolution on that matter condemning the Soviet Union.

That having been said, there is an extraordinary element of agreement in the main. The Foreign Minister's answer yesterday was exemplary in what he said about compensation. I commend the motion to the House. The recent escalation of violence in the Lebanon is a very serious threat to what stability is left in the Middle East. That is a cause of great sorrow and pain amongst the Australian Lebanese community. It is a cause of great concern to the Western world. Without overstating the case, it is a very real potential threat to global security.


Mr SPEAKER —Is the motion seconded?


Mr Cadman —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak later in the debate .