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QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
Bougainville: Use of Mercenaries
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- QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
Thursday, 27 February 1997
Senator MARGETTS(10.54 a.m.) —I move:
That the Senate take note of the further answer given by the Minister for the Environment (Senator Hill), to a question without notice asked by Senator Margetts on 25 February 1997, relating to allegations that Papua New Guinea hired foreign mercenaries for the conflict in Bougainville.
I do not wish to delay the Senate overly, but I feel the need to take note of the late and, as the Minister for the Environment (Senator Hill) admitted, incomplete answer that he has just given me.
It is interesting that subsequent ministers up to now have said that they have no record of Australians working in any mercenary capacity in Papua New Guinea. The explanation that has been given in the past has related to the fact that it is not an illegal activity to recruit people for mercenary activities from Australia under certain stated conditions; therefore there is no necessity to keep a register of those Australians so engaged.
First of all, the minister said there was no knowledge of the incident on 15 January. Secondly, he said no Australians were involved. It either has been investigated or it has not. If it has been investigated, that is not the same as saying there is no knowledge. To say the Australian government has no knowledge and then to say no Australian was engaged in flying the Iroquois is rather bizarre. You either have knowledge of the incident or you have not. If you have knowledge of the incident and then say that no Australian was engaged, that makes sense. It is a matter of whether it has been investigated or it has not. That was the question I asked two days ago: has the matter been investigated? That does not seem to be the case. It is always possible to go to one's advisers or department and ask, `Do you have knowledge of this incident?' They could say, `No, we have no knowledge,' but that does not mean the incident did not take place. And it certainly does not indicate that the matter has been investigated by Australian or any other sources. Certainly, that question was not adequately answered.
I am pleased to see that the minister has indicated there will be further investigations into the funding of mercenary activities. I would like to point out that the definition of mercenaries, according to the Collins English Dictionary, is a soldier for pay. If you happen to be flying an Iroquois helicopter into a war zone, that seems to fit the definition. So whatever people called the exemption in the first place in 1989—because that meant that it was no longer illegal to recruit Australians for that kind of activity—it simply meant the Australian government at that time largely washed their hands of responsibility for keeping an eye on what was happening. They enabled the Papua New Guinea government to fund such activities and they set up a mechanism by which Australians could be involved. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that Sir Julius Chan was scratching his head early this week and saying, `This is what Australians showed us how to do.' The previous government showed them how and that is exactly why it is very difficult for Labor to speak out strongly on this issue at the moment. It is difficult because they were involved in it. I would like to see some changes in that response.
We have been asking questions since 1994. Sir Julius Chan said, in 1994, that he would take all steps necessary to rid the world of the leadership of the BRA. Nothing much has changed except by degree. And it is so obvious now that even governments and oppositions cannot totally ignore what is going on and what Australia's culpability in this potentially is. It is extremely embarrassing, for both the government and the opposition. There have been inadequate answers to questions about training. There have been inadequate answers to questions about mercenaries and Australian involvement in mercenary activities since 1994. It is time now for proper investigations to be done. It is time now for Austral ia to play the role it should have been playing all along, which is to work with the company which helped to create the situation and the tension in the first place—to work for land justice, to work for environmental justice and to look for the means by which Bougainville can work for self-determination. It is well overdue. Australia could be playing a much more positive role than it has been playing now and in the recent past.
Question resolved in the affirmative.