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Tuesday, 8 May 1984
Page: 1765


Senator MASON(9.47) —The statement we are considering is concerned with the Middle East, particularly the continued participation of the Australian contingent to the Sinai force. The Australian Democrats have not materially changed our view that participation of our 99 men and eight helicopters in the Sinai Multinational Force and Observers is not in the best interest of Australia. I say that not in any spirit of washing our hands of the very serious implications to the world of the Middle East situation; far from it . We understand that. Rather, our view relates to the nature of the Force itself , especially the fact that it is not a United Nations force but one which represents, one might say, only one side of the zonal influences. I also freely acknowledge that our forces in the Sinai have done a good job of work in trying and difficult circumstances and I do not want to have any equivocation of our view on that.

The fact is that this operation has never been one about which the Australian people felt happy. Is it important? Is it really important that the view of the people of this country should count in a decision of this kind? I think it is because in the event of war, and war is the ultimate risk when we engage in any kind of foreign adventure of this kind, the people as a whole are involved. I think it is very much to the point to consider what they think.

If we look back to 1981, when this whole matter first surfaced and the Fraser Government got us involved in the peacekeeping force, we see that the Australian people very definitely did not want it. In fact, a poll conducted by the Melbourne Age on 21 September 1981 showed that 72 per cent of Australians were opposed to sending troops to the Sinai. I suggest that that was a very sensible and protective attitude on the part of the Australian people who I think since the days of Vietnam have tended to look with great care at the degree of involvement in which we place ourselves in these foreign countries. As in Vietnam, the conduct of events is not in our own hands. We have with this Force, as with all such forces, surely given out hostages to fortune. It has been our good luck so far to have got away with that. But that does not necessarily mean that we will continue to get away with it, nor does it mean that in future we will get away with similar adventures with the same impunity.

That vote by nearly three-quarters of the Australian people I believe has been maintained. I think that the Australian people intelligently do not want this kind of involvement and that whatever reasons we have for being in the Force were not good reasons. This Sinai decision has always had possibly tragic consequences for the future. It is certainly always ominous because of the precedent it may make for the future. That is one of the points to which I want to address myself. Every time we do something like that it is easier to do something like that again. That is not good.

What is the basic objection we have to the continuance of the Sinai Force? It is something that the Minister for Social Security (Senator Grimes) dealt with in his statement. It is something about which we expressed some concern some years ago. It is that the Soviet Union could use the Sinai Force as a precedent for sending its own multinational so-called peacekeeping forces to distant and troubled spots. Presumably, that is something that the United States of America, Australia and every other part of the free world would certainly deplore. Yet of course the point is that we are creating the precedent in this matter. It is possible to foresee a situation in which the zonal or so-called peacekeeping forces on both sides roam the trouble spots of the world. What better combination for trouble and war could we get than that?

That then is the hidden trap of this matter, that merely by contributing to an American sponsored force with the best will in the world, and I am not canvassing the American position at all, we are creating a precedent for the Soviet Union to say: 'If it is good enough for the Americans to do it, it is good enough for us'. The Soviet Union will then feel that it is free to go ahead and send forces to trouble spots such as Angola and Nicaragua and have them involved in much the same way as our forces are involved in Sinai-in other words , on one side of the coin.

Is it a fair comment to say that we are pushing the American point of view? I need go back only to the former Prime Minister, Mr Malcolm Fraser, who made this point quite closely at the time he made the original statement that we would be sending the Force. On page 9 of that statement he said:

The failure of Australia and other Western countries to participate would require the United States to bear the burden itself and would be seen as a failure by the West to support United States policies in the Middle East.

If that is not a clear enough statement of intent, I do not know where we would find one.

It is not at this time our place to debate, although we might do so extensively , whether the United States policies are justifiable or wise. That is a matter for the United States and its Congress and for the President of the United States to decide. But we, after all, are Australians, and it is up to us to decide how we should be involved. How far would we go to support United States policies? I say these words now not to the Fraser Government but to the Labor Government. We have a Labor Government now which has taken a serious step in continuing with this policy. I do not believe that in his long and rambling statement, which covers many areas, the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) has given any compelling or rational reason for us to go on with this. I ask the Government: Would we go on to a limited nuclear war, the one that President Reagan has canvassed from time to time? Would we go on to a Korean-type war, as happened before? Would we go on to a Vietnam-type war, with a task force in some part of the Middle East to fight for the oil pipelines? The Australian Democrats wish to bring to the Government's attention the fact that this is the sort of implication the Government has wished on itself, whether it likes it or not, by going ahead with this decision and by sanctioning for up to another two years the participation of Australians again in the Sinai Force.

In the light of these overtones, the Government has something to answer for now and every reason to stick to its undertaking to get this Force out of the Middle East as soon as it can. This is said to be within the next two years, which the Democrats suggest is not good enough. The reasons for us being in that Force no longer exist. The fact that it has been there for two years and that there have not been any incidents and the fact that those concerned could get along perfectly well without us are good reasons for us being out of something which is not within our area of concern, basically. It is not in our geographical region and we have no historic or philosophical reason to be there at all. If the Government cannot do its thinking better than it has it is time that it rethought it a little more extensively.