Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 27 November 1986
Page: 2868


Senator PETER BAUME(1.12) —I have listened with care to Senator Childs. I can only conclude that, as he was a union official for over 20 years before he came into the Senate, he must share some of the responsibility for the problems facing this country. The lights will not burn late in Liberal Party offices tonight and his criticism only gives us reason to believe that the policy which has been put forward by our side is well directed and will benefit Australia.

I wish to say a few things about problems facing the Christian community in Lebanon at the present time. Lebanon's Christians have been fighting a war of survival for the past 11 years. Over 500,000 of them are, in fact if not in name, refugees in their own country because of the war and tens of thousands of them have been killed or injured since the fighting began in 1975. Recent attention drawn to Syrian involvement in world terrorism should logically lead to greater attention being paid to the plight of the Lebanese people, Christians and moderate Muslims, whose country has been used as a pawn by Syria and by the Soviet Union in their attempts to assert their hegemony in the region.

Syria entered the country illegally in January 1976 and has never completely quit Lebanon since then. The sanctions imposed by the United Kingdom and the United States and, to a lesser extent, those reluctantly imposed by the European Community countries, focus attention on claims by Lebanon over the past 11 years that Syria has been perpetrating acts of terror in Lebanon either directly or vicariously through its allies in the various Muslim and Druze factions. All indications are that Syria, Iran and the Soviet Union, which are the major non-Lebanese parties involved in the conflict, having failed militarily and politically to break the spirit of the Lebanese Christians, are doing all they can to destroy Lebanon's economy.

The state of the Lebanese economy may be gauged from the following facts: In 1975 there were 2.37 Lebanese pounds to the United States dollar. At present the figure is roughly 50 Lebanese pounds to the United States dollar. People's wages have not risen much in the intervening years and the average wage is around 2,000 Lebanese pounds per month. What two years ago would have been paid for 10 kilograms of tomatoes can today buy only 22 grams in Lebanon. What would have been paid two years ago for 660 grams of coffee in Lebanon will today buy only three grams of coffee. A dress that in 1984 would have cost 200 Lebanese pounds today costs more than 5,000 Lebanese pounds. What would have been paid two years ago for 25 grams of meat in Lebanon will today buy only five grams. And what two years ago would have bought four apples, today buys just 100 grams-only part of one apple.

The economic situation affects all Lebanese people, the well-off and the poor. It affects Muslims, Christians and Druze. They are all united in the misery that besets their tiny country which in 1974 attracted over three million tourists, of whom over 450,000 were from Europe and the Americas. Today Lebanon receives virtually no tourists.

The Lebanese Christians who wish to remain in their homeland face extermination. They fear the consequences of a Syrian takeover of their country. They fear the prospect of reverting to the status of what are called Dhimmi; that is, tolerated persons in their own country, with only the rights that the Moslem Government chooses to permit them to enjoy. They fear the loss of citizenship because, under Moslem law, no Dhimmi can be a citizen in a Moslem country. They look to the free, democratic and Western world for support.

Sadly, the Lebanese Christians have found little support from the West. The West is preoccupied with balance of payments, with terrorist blackmail, with nationals held hostage by Moslem extremists, and by the ever-present shadow of oil embargoes. The Australian Government is reportedly unwilling to break off diplomatic relations with Syria because, since the closing of the Australian Embassy in Beirut, its functions have been carried on by the Embassy in Damascus. The fact is that few Lebanese Christians and few moderate Moslems can risk the journey to Damascus. Many of those seeking asylum in Australia are Christians and Sunni Moslems and for these people merely to try to travel from Beirut to Damascus, to take a bus or taxi along that Damascus road, is to risk disappearing forever.

Physical dangers aside, it costs over one month's salary. It costs 3,000 Lebanese pounds to make the journey to Damascus and some Lebanese have had to pay up to $US500 for an Australian visa because of the location of the Embassy. Closing the Embassy in Damascus would be in the interests of those Lebanese Christians and others who wish to migrate to this country. Closing the Embassy in Damascus would be an unmistakable sign to the Syrians that Australia is opposed to government-sponsored terrorism such as that undertaken by Syria, regularly and deliberately. It would also stop the profiteering from the human misery indulged in by the Syrians who virtually control the Embassy. For these reasons, most Lebanese believe that the Australian Embassy staff should never have moved to Damascus.

The fact is that once the shooting started it was the Australians who got out virtually first. When the position in West Beirut became untenable, it would have been more supportive of Lebanon to relocate that Embassy somewhere in East Beirut or in Jounieh further up the coast. That is especially so as many other embassies have made such a move without great problems. But, no, the Australian Embassy, once the shooting began in West Beirut, got out and took its affairs to Damascus.

I must say that the vacillation of Britain's so-called allies has reportedly delighted President Assad, whose so-called defence budget in 1985, according to estimates of the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, was $US3.3 billion. He has received over $US1.9 billion annually since 1978 from the Gulf Co-operation Council and various Arab states, because Syria is supposed to be a front line state. Assad talks of defence, but it is misleading. Syria's armed forces, which number 402,500-that is for a population of just 10 million-seem to serve a purely offensive role. They are not defence forces; they are offensive forces. Thirty thousand of them occupy Lebanon and the rest of them confront Israel and Iraq. Yet the Lebanese pose no threat to Syria, so why should there be 30,000 Syrian troops in Lebanon?

Israel has no territorial ambitions beyond what is necessary to secure its own frontiers. There has been peace there since 1975. Observers believe that as Iranian forces muster for moves against Basra, and ultimately Baghdad, Syria's so-called defence forces will exercise not inconsiderable influence in the final outcome. Should Iran and its Syrian ally defeat Iraq, Europe may find the taste of its diplomacy turning to ashes in its mouth.

The Australian Government should join the United Kingdom and the United States governments in imposing appropriate sanctions on Syria for its involvement in world terrorism. We should close our embassy in Damascus; we should move back to East Beirut. Through the United Nations we should put pressure on Syria, on the Soviet Union, on Iran, and on all other foreign powers at present interfering in Lebanese affairs, to withdraw and allow the Lebanese people to resolve their problems peaceably. We should make available what humanitarian aid is within our power-grain, foodstuffs and clothing-as soon as possible, to alleviate the distress of homeless Lebanese, and this should be channelled through an agency set up by arrangements between the President of Lebanon and our Government.

The conflict in Lebanon has been misrepresented in the Press as a religious war between the Christians and the Muslims. In fact, it is a war of aggression between an allegedly friendly power, Syria, and its virtually defenceless neighbour, Lebanon. The Soviet Union managed to take the Baltic states and to retain possession of them with scarcely a whimper of protest from the West. Is the same thing going to happen with Syria taking over Lebanon?

Lebanon has been a bastion of Western values and especially democratic values and it must not be allowed to be swallowed up by Syria, to become yet another Middle Eastern dictatorship. Western powers that attach such importance to democracy should remember that none of the present Arab regimes has a democratically elected leader and in none of the Arab countries are non-Moslems accorded full citizenship rights. May I, in conclusion, put on record that a small group of non-Lebanese Australians has recently formed an Australian Committee for Lebanon. Its aims are simple: To attempt to present the facts about the war that is devastating that small country and to assist with whatever peaceful means are available to us, the members of the committee, members of the Australian Labor Party and the Liberal Party and eminent laymen, in guaranteeing that Lebanon continues to exist as a free, pluralistic and democratic state.

Mr Deputy President, while I have a couple of minutes I want to correct a small error of fact in a statement I made to the Senate on 18 November in addressing some of the dreadful misrepresentation by the Tobacco Institute of Australia. It was in relation to advertisements which that Institute had published and which drew upon an article in a British journal. Among the various names I put out, I inadvertently confused two sets of names. In fact, the study which was relied upon by the Tobacco Institute of Australia was carried out by Peter Lee, Jocelyn Chamberlain and Michael Alderson, and not, as I stated on page 2400 of Hansard, by Roberto Masironi, Robin Weiss and Julian Peto. But it was, in fact, Drs Masironi, Weiss and Peto who had to write to the Australian Press to clarify that the study had been made by three individuals and had not been made by the Cancer Institute. And, indeed, that is what I asserted in my speech.

The three authors of that study-P. N. Lee, J. Chamberlain and M. Alderson-have not written to the Australian Press to correct the misrepresentations by the Tobacco Institute. In fact, Peter Lee, one of the authors, is a long-time consultant to the Tobacco Advisory Council and other tobacco industry bodies. We have heard that Dr Lee provided advice to the Tobacco Institute of Australia in relation to these advertisements when it ran its defence before the Advertising Standards Council. As honourable senators will be aware, that defence was remarkably ineffective because the Advertising Standards Council found that the Tobacco Institute had breached the advertising code of ethics, as I reported to the Senate.

Of the other two authors, Michael Alderson no longer works with the Institute of Cancer Research but Jocelyn Chamberlain does still work there. Of the three doctors-Dr Peto, Dr Weiss and Dr Masironi-Dr Peto is the Director of the Epidemiology Department of the Institute of Cancer Research; Professor Robin Weiss is the Director of the whole Institute. So the people who wrote to the Australian Press to correct the misrepresentations by the Tobacco Institute-Drs Weiss and Peto-are, in fact, very senior officials of the Cancer Institute. It was they who wrote a series of letters to the Australian Press pointing out that the Tobacco Institute could not assert that the findings or conclusions drawn in the paper by several very junior officers in any way represented the Institute of Cancer Research, as had been asserted by the tobacco industry. I place that small correction on the record.