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Thursday, 6 October 1983
Page: 1514


Mr BALDWIN(10.22) —I take this opportunity to make a number of remarks on the Korean airliner disaster and its aftermath. It is necessary to make a number of points on this matter as it has become clear that because these events are being interpreted a certain way in some quarters and certain inferences are being drawn there are grave implications for the prospects of world peace. Nobody can condone the actions of the Soviet Union in this matter. This conclusion is not mitigated, even if one accepts the version of events which holds that the Soviet pilot and his ground controllers failed to identify the aircraft as a civilian airliner. It is, of course, an atrocity to fire upon an unidentified aircraft. When this is coupled with the complete lack of candour displayed by the Soviet authorities in the aftermath, unflattering conclusions about the nature of the Soviet military and political establishment are inevitable.

Nonetheless, I believe that we are being asked to accept a version of the events that gives a quite inaccurate picture of the motives and reactions of the Soviet leadership. We have been presented with a scenario in which the intercepting Soviet aircraft positively identified the Korean airliner for what it was; this information was transmitted to the ground control and thence to military and political headquarters in Moscow. The leadership, in possession of the full facts, then made a deliberate decision to order the destruction of a civillian airliner. At least that is the version of events which is being presented to us. It has become clear with the passage of time that this version is simply inaccurate. An excellent analysis on this matter by Robin Morgan and Patrick Forman appeared in the Sunday Times. This was reprinted in the Australian of 12 September. I would recommend that honourable members opposite have a look at that article because it might enlighten them somewhat. This report makes a number of points. Firstly, contrary to earlier reports, there was an attempt by the Soviet aircraft to make radio contact with the Korean airliner -as I have said, not that that mitigates the atrocity of firing on an unidentified aircraft. The Soviet aircraft was never less than two kilometres from the Korean Air Lines plane. This was only momentarily. There was only a quarter moon that night, hardly enough to make a positive identification at two kilometres range. Far from stalking the aircraft for more than two hours, the Russians scrambled four flights just 30 minutes before the jumbo was shot down. It was 10 minutes before the pilots pinpointed the aircraft on radar and its silhouette was not visually sighted until eight minutes before the missiles were launched. Even the words attributed to the ground controller instructing the pilot to 'take aim at the target' and 'fire', which honourable members will recall was the version that came out a day or two after the episode took place, do not exist on the available tape. They are attributed to unnamed Japanese persons. The Sunday Times article makes a number of other points which time does not permit me to outline.


Mr Hodgman —That is the Moscow version.


Mr BALDWIN —Rubbish. That is absolute nonsense, as the honourable member would know if he had listened to what I said about the whole matter in the first instance. I am no apologist for the present Soviet leadership. But suggesting that that leadership knowingly perpetrated a mid-air massacre of civilians is ill-founded and is being promulgated in some cases in pursuit of quite sinister objectives. It is now generally accepted that the decision to fire was probably taken at the middle rank military level. Even if one ascribes the worst motives to the Soviet political leadership, it clearly does not serve its interests to perpetrate an act of this type. Nobody doubts that the Soviets are acutely concerned to present a favourable propaganda image of themselves to the world. The worst aspect of this is the sorts of inferences that are being drawn, which are exemplified by Ronald Reagan's observations in his weekly radio address that the lesson to be drawn is the need to prepare for 'prolonged ideological struggle' with the Soviets and to continue the military buildup. Such a response vastly exceeds the evil of the incident itself. There can be little doubt that to depict the Soviet leadership with all of its very real faults-I reiterate that I am certainly not an apologist for the Soviet leadership or the Soviet political system-in the way encouraged by some Western leaders and to draw inferences like Reagan's will increase the likelihood of nuclear war, with all that that entails.