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Tuesday, 1 November 1983
Page: 2122

Mr BILNEY(5.54) —We have just heard yet another effusion from the Opposition about the question of sending troops abroad-something with which it is very familiar. Its response to peacekeeping in the past has been too often-as it did in Vietnam-to send troops to sort out a problem and to get itself enmeshed in a situation of no particular interest or relevance to Australia and one which embroils us in conflicts which are not part of our business. I think much more heat than light has been generated on the Opposition benches about a subject on which it becomes increasingly clear that Opposition members are very ill-informed.

I have the disadvantage perhaps from the Opposition's point of view that, as Australia's High Commissioner in the West Indies from 1980 to 1982, I have been to Grenada on half a dozen occasions, that I have met with Prime Minister Bishop on that number of occasions, with Unison Whiteman, the assassinated Foreign Minister, with Norris Bain and with Sir Paul Scoon the present Governor-General. I have the disadvantage that I know what I am talking about when I speak about the situation in Grenada. Crocodile tears are being shed by the Opposition about the events which resulted in the assassination of those men and indeed of Jacqueline Creft as well. It seems to me that what needs to be said very clearly is that we on this side of the House deplore those events. These were people who had very much the welfare of Grenada and Grenadans at heart. While Grenada may not have been a model of Australian democracy it was nevertheless governed very much in the interests of its people. So I think that needs to be clearly said at the outset of my remarks.

The second thing I would like to mention is that those opposite made much of the possible involvement of the Commonwealth. What they did not mention was that next month there will be a Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in New Delhi to which the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) will go, to which quite possibly-unlike the last Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting run by Mr Fraser-the Prime Minister of Malaysia will also go, at which it is perfectly clear that these events will be discussed. Nothing in the Government's statement precludes there being a discussion of what may happen in bringing about a peaceful solution in Grenada. Indeed I read to the House a paragraph from the Government's statement:

In view of the situation on the Island and as the Commonwealth Secretary General has so rightly noted, there is an urgent need to provide the people of Grenada with the earliest opportunity to determine their own future free of pressures and constraints of any kind. There is a Grenadian constitution and there are constitutional processes that could be followed.

That is perfectly correct. The statement continues:

In present circumstances efforts to restore constitutional government in Grenada appear to be the best available course of action in the search for stability, harmony and peace on the Island.

Let us compare that with this empty matter of public importance that has been put forward from the Opposition benches, namely:

. . . the failure to support peace initiatives in Grenada.

If that is a failure to support peace initiatives in Grenada then I do not know what support would constitute. It is perfectly clear that what needs to be brought about in Grenada is a situation where elections can be held. I happen to believe that those elections, if freely and fairly held, would result in the return of a government of a very similar complexion to that which was removed by the assassination of the Prime Minister and three of his most important Ministers. I believe that the New Jewel Movement would prevail in those elections, providing a situation where free elections took place would be the best result.

Some mention was made of the reaction of other countries to taking part in a peacekeeping force. It was said by the honourable member for Warringah that the Canadians would participate in such a force. That is absolutely not what the Canadians have in mind at all. The Canadians have said that they may be interested in some sort of Zimbabwe-type team; that is to say, a team to observe the elections or some sort of role of that kind. The Canadians are absolutely uninterested in providing troops to take part in a peacekeeping force. The same is true of Britain. When remarks are made in this Parliament about how the very proper stance-as I will demonstrate in a moment-which the Government has taken represents some sort of a lurch to the Left. I wonder whether it will also be argued that Mrs Thatcher has somehow succumbed to the blandishments of Tony Benn . Is that the reason for her taking a stance which is extremely similar to our own? As for that stance being one which is not supported by Australian public opinion, I would like to quote from a couple of recent editorials from newspapers which are not known to be unbalanced on these matters. First of all, the Age editorial of 29 October states:

The guidelines for foreign excursions by Australian troops should be narrow indeed: we should be ready to consider marching under the United Nation's flag- an occurrence not likely these days in any part of the world, and we should be ready to listen carefully to requests from our own region-particularly from those smaller nations with whom we have historical ties and to whom we have continuing obligations. Apart from that the rule of thumb should be that Australia shouldn't be there.

That editorial, which is headed 'Say ''no'', politely', is one which endorses the Government's position. Similarly, the Sydney Morning Herald under the heading 'Why Australia is right on Grenada' states:

The Australian Government is also right to refuse to participate in any Commonwealth peace-keeping force sent to the country. Probably a Commonwealth force, in the proper sense, is not feasible anyway. But the suggestion of a Commonwealth force should be killed off as quickly as possible.

Mr Jacobi —Another radical journal!

Mr BILNEY —That is another radical journal, as the honourable member for Hawker has rightly interjected. That is Australian opinion backing the Government. That is the opinion of countries such as Canada and Britain endorsing the stance that we have taken.

In the few minutes that remain to me I would like to say something about the Government's so-called failure to support peace initiatives. This is a Government which has done more to support peace initiatives and disarmament initiatives than any government in my memory. In the very short time that we have been in office we have done the following: We have appointed an Ambassador for Disarmament who recently made his first statement and a very good one-I commend it to the House-to the United Nations General Assembly. The Department of Foreign Affairs has been considerably strengthened to deal with disarmament matters. Discussions are now under way to set up a peace research institute, probably at the Australian National University. Moves are under way to bring in courses in peace studies in schools so that children do not learn just about wars. A process of dialogue with a very important peace movement has begun. Indeed, the first two issues of a disarmament newsletter have been published already. Support has been given to the United Nations to disseminate information on peace, disarmament and arms control issues. Just recently a voluntary contribution of $50,000 was announced to assist that particular peace initiative . The Australian Government now has undertaken a review of international disarmament agreements to which we are not a party, which the previous Government did not join. As a result, we have already ratified one agreement-the inhumane weapons convention, which the previous Government did not ratify-and we are reviewing others as well. The comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty is being pursued with great vigor not only as part of a bid to strengthen the Treaty on the Non-proliferaton of Nuclear Weapons but also as part of a move to discourage France. I could go on, but if that is a failure to support peace initivates, it is very much out of character with the excellent record of the Government in this area. The Minister for Foreign Affairs has been called a lightweight. I have seen Foreign Ministers come and I have seen them go. If ever I saw a heavyweight, it is the present Foreign Minister. I absolutely support his efforts.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Rocher) — Order! The time allocated for discussion of this matter of public importance has expired.