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Tuesday, 6 September 1983
Page: 360


Mr MacKELLAR(2.38) —I seconded the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) because this is a moment when, through the voice of this Parliament, the Australian people give expression to the emotions which have been stirred by the sense of horror and very deep shock which have overcome all of us since hearing the news of this bewildering tragedy. Our first reaction was one of incomprehension but then, as the evidence mounted, the full scope and deliberate callousness of this action left Australians numbed, saddened and angry. Our first thoughts are for the bereaved and our sympathy goes to the relatives, families and friends of the victims. But as a nation we have a further duty-a duty to truth and to the safety and integrity of the international air traveller. We cannot let the Soviet Union create a new set of rules for international conduct in these matters-rules which would justify not the rescue of the innocent but in fact the destruction of the innocent.

The failure of the Soviet Union Government to admit the truth is monumental. A system which has lived by half truths finds itself now unable to cope with the incontrovertible fact that Soviet military aircraft were directed to shoot down an unarmed civilian airliner, fully identified by its navigation and strobe lighting system. The message was: 'The target has been destroyed'. That is the cold, callous verdict of this senseless and cruel military operation. Are we therefore expected to accept the proposition that civil aircraft over Soviet territory are henceforth to be regarded as legitimate military targets? That seems to be the thesis to be supported by Soviet subterfuges of silence, evasion and controlled leaks. The position that civilian aircraft infringing Soviet air space are automatic military targets has to be confronted and has to be resolved . That is the underlying issue. The world's response must be prompt, strong and unequivocal. The Soviet policies have to be changed to bring them into accord with civilised standards. That is essential.

So far the Soviet responses to this whole affair have been totally unsatisfactory. Its first position was to imply no responsibility. The plane, we were led to believe, simply fell out of the sky. Yesterday it tried to go on to the political attack. This sort of approach had worked in the past. Always the propaganda was aimed to lead people to believe that both sides were to blame. Instead of stating factually what happened, the Soviets attempted to cover-up and complained about misrepresentation. Tass stated:

The White House and the State Department are mounting a world-wide rabid anti- Soviet campaign.

But Tass went on to ask:

Why did the authorities of the U.S. and Japan, whose air traffic services control flights of planes on this route, knowing that the plane remained a long time in Soviet airspace, not take appropriate measures to put an end to this flagrant violation of the sovereignty of the Soviet Union?

That statement bears very close consideration. A plane containing 269 men, women and children was shot down because it intruded into Soviet air space. It was identifiable as a straying civil aircraft. Its lights were on. No blame is to be attached to the Soviet Union, it seems to argue. Why? Because the plane was in Soviet air space. It was the job of the United States and Japan to stop it from being there. Their failure to do this justified the destruction of the place and 269 innocent lives.

This preposterous argument is foisted on a world stricken by horror and disbelief. It is utterly cynical. It is clear that the Soviets thought they could get away with it. However, the tapes of the Soviet fighter's interception, which are to be tabled in the United Nations Security Council, will confound this utterly cynical approach. We must resist the Soviet proposition that a plane which strays into national airspace can be shot down irrespective of the nature of the aircraft. The Soviet concedes nothing about the impossibility of contacting the aircraft out of the range of air control. It is a very distasteful argument indeed to introduce a notion of blame against the Japanese air control. Nor can the Soviet Union be allowed to get away with an argument which implies that the Korean airliner was not accidentally off course but was controlled throughout into a deliberate violation of Soviet air space. This type of argument must be totally rejected for what it is-a cruel defence of the might the Soviets want to establish-the right to shoot down anything in its air space, a right which, according to the Soviet, has at all times to remain beyond question and argument.

The price to be paid, if we surrender to the Soviet intransigence, will be a high one in terms of humanitarian standards of international behaviour and in terms of ordinary standards of air traffic safety. The truth is that the international obligation must clearly rest on a nation which shoots down an aircraft to justify its decision in terms which satisfy commonsense tests of morality. The failure of the Soviet Union to attempt to do this in terms which even acknowledge the facts the whole world knows points to a very deep moral crisis in the Soviet social and political system. No amount of toughing it out, riding the storm of world-wide indignation, will be able to conceal that fact.

The Cambridge historian Herbert Butterfield once observed that civilisation is a fine line of defence against barbarism. This is amply demonstrated by this most tragic of events. The amendment which has been tabled today, however, recognises that there are further developments to be taken into account as the international community addresses this issue. There is no scope for Australia to take-as other countries are about to do-action on a bilateral civil aviation basis. We must be prepared to demonstrate that, if the Soviet Union does not come to acknowledge her culpability in terms which can reasonably be considered as coherent, convincing and suitably regretful, a further judgment by Australia should ensue. The Soviets should in no way be allowed to feel that we are not determined in our attitude. So far, as the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) has acknowledged, the Soviets have provided no information in answer to our requests . We in the Opposition feel that to appear to say in advance that there can be no adverse consequences for our bilateral relations if they refuse us would be wrong. There is a danger that the motion of the Government, without amendment, could lead to that result. I am sure it is not intended, but it could lead to that result.

Mr Speaker, the Leader of the Opposition has made very clear we are not going to divide on this matter. We have listened to the arguments by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) wherein he acknowledges the correctness of the propositions put by the Opposition. We urge the Government to accept the amendment which makes the position of this Parliament more clear than the motion moved so far by the Government. It will be a resolution of this Parliament, not a resolution of the Government, and it should be seen as such. We urge the Government to accept the amendment which is tendered in a bipartisan spirit and which we believe conveys the sense of this House, and accords with the spirit of the Government's approach.

Amendment negatived.

Original question resolved in the affirmative.


Mr Scholes —Mr Speaker, I ask that the vote on this matter be recorded in the Votes and Proceedings as a unanimous vote of the House. There is no actual means by which that would be done normally.


Mr SPEAKER —I think the Minister for Defence has made the point by having his remarks included in Hansard.