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Thursday, 29 May 1997
Page: 3964


Senator BROWN(11.40 a.m.) —Pursuant to contingent notice, I move:

That so much of standing orders be suspended as would prevent Senator Brown moving a motion to provide for the consideration of a matter, namely, a motion to give precedence to a motion relating to Nigeria and the Ogoni people.

I do so because the matter is both important and urgent. Last night I spoke with the Nigerian Ogoni leader Komene Famaa here in Canberra. Emphasised to me and to the audience listening to him in Canberra was the urgent plight of the Ogoni people in Nigeria in West Africa. The motion that I wish to move is as follows:

That the Senate:

(a)   warmly welcomes the visit to Australia of Nigerian Ogoni leader, Komene Famaa;

(b)   deplores the massive social dislocation and environmental damage being done to the Ogoni people's homelands;

(c)   expresses its grave concern at continuing reports of gross abuses of human rights in Nigeria;

(d)   calls on the Australian Government to:

   (i)   put the Government of Nigeria on notice that without immediate and dramatic action to improve the human rights situation in Nigeria and to restore political and civil liberties, Australia will be obliged to downgrade bilateral relations and push for Nigeria's expulsion from the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Britain later this year, and

   (ii)   offer increased aid assistance for Nigerian refugees who have fled to Benin; and

(e)   calls on the Senate President to:

   (i)   transmit the terms of this resolution to the Nigerian High Commissioner in Canberra, and

   (ii)   write to the British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs expressing the Senate's grave concern about the treatment of the Ogoni people and to urge the British Government to put the Nigerian Government on notice on the same lines as set out in subparagraph (d) (i) above.

It is an urgent matter. The Abacha military dictatorship in Nigeria has thumbed its nose at the Commonwealth of Nations and, indeed, the world community of nations since 1995 when, during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in New Zealand, despite the full weight of international pressure, the leader of the Ogoni people, Ken Saro-Wiwa and his eight fellow patriots were taken out after a summary trial and executed. It was one of the most despicable acts against peaceful patriots and spokespeople for a minority in any country that there has ever been in human history. It was one of the greatest and most obvious floutings of the civilised behaviour we expect of national governments under the full weight of international pressure and in the full glare of international attention that there has ever been in world political history.

It goes without saying that it is now incumbent upon us to act with great vigour to bring home to the Abacha government, and indeed to the Shell oil corporation, which has more than 100 wells operating in the Ogoni people's homeland, that the international community disapproves, that it disapproves of the police actions, it disapproves of the murders, it disapproves of the rapes, and it disapproves of the abominable circumstances in which there are almost negligible health and education facilities and community welfare opportunities for the Ogoni people in the Niger Delta in Nigeria—despite the fact that Shell has extracted more than $100 billion worth of profit from its oil operations in that country since it began them in 1958.

The action here is concentrating on the Abacha regime. We do have the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting coming up in Britain in just a few months time. What we are saying here to General Abacha in the lead-up to that meeting is, `This is your absolute last chance. If you can't act to release the 19 Ogoni leaders who are currently in prison and facing summary execution because they simply dared to stand up for the truth, and if you can't give proper civil liberties and democracy to the people in your own country, then the rest of the world will divest itself of normal and formal relations with you.' Among those things, of course, is the call to Australia to relocate our high commission elsewhere in west Africa, in one of the countries which do entertain the concepts of individual liberty, environmental welfare, social welfare and democracy.