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Monday, 11 May 1987
Page: 2962


Mr PETER FISHER(10.45) —In November of 1985 I visited South Africa. During that time I met and freely discussed issues and policies in that beautiful and harsh but divided country with 45 diverse individuals and groups ranging from representatives of the United Democratic Front; radical black groups such as AZAPO; church leaders; Inkatha, led by Chief Buthelezi; representatives of industry, and a diversity of the media, union and sporting bodies. My visit took me to Soweto, to the East Cape, to the mines and to the outstanding wildlife parks and efficient farms. Two weeks in any country, even with intense discussions with the wide range of interest groups that I met, does not make one an expert. This is particularly so in South Africa with the complexity of its multiracial society, its conglomeration of people with different features and cultures and its mixture of races that are proudly individualistic and seek to retain their own identity. However, I believe such a visit provided a better understanding of the difficulties of the reforming process and a capacity to debate with less ignorance and prejudice and at least to separate fact from fiction and emotion from the practical.

The most important issue, of course, was to ensure that South Africa becomes a stable, vital democracy and that it contributes not just to the well-being of the African continent but realises its rightful place in the economic and cultural life of the world. So that there will be no misunderstanding, let me state that apartheid is a fundamental denial of human rights and an affront to the dignity of all people, but let me also clarify some comments that I made on my return. First, the great majority of all races in that country were in favour of reform, and reform by non-violent means, and there is the belief that reform in South Africa will be determined by the National Party Government and that it will move at a pace that is satisfactory only to its electorate. Not to move in such a way would see the attempt to move away from apartheid abandoned. There was a general view that economic sanctions and disinvestment were hindering and not helping the process of reform and that sanctions simply encouraged unreal expectations, increased the level of violence and ultimately destroyed the best paid black industrial jobs in the whole continent of Africa.

We recognised that the circumstances in South Africa were sensitive and delicate but, for the first time in history, they seemed to offer a genuine solution to satisfy the majority of the people. It was therefore my view that international action must encourage this process by negotiation, dialogue and communication.

Australia's role at that time was, unfortunately, seen to be negative and quite irrelevant. But politicians and governments continued to posture and yell from abroad while issuing threats that could not be fulfilled, and damaged any chance of meaningful reform. So, Madam Speaker, the world and particularly Australia have reaped their tragic reward for hypocrisy and blatant posturing on the world stage.

South Africans, through fear, have swung to the right. The reforms, the crumbling of apartheid, may now well stop. I am ashamed of the Government's role in this issue. Richard Carleton, of course, cries censorship, despite the fact that he was provided with the use of South African broadcasting and television facilities. He abused the laws-a good story by a professional, but one that does nothing to assist in the difficulties of that violence-torn country. As I say, he cried censorship and yet our country provides visas for Archbishop Tutu and Oliver Tambo while denying visas to ordinary South African citizens seeking to visit relations, and sometimes sick relations, in Australia and, of course, denying visas to sporting teams-to anyone, in fact, with a different point of view. The Labor Government has even pressured our newspapers not to report the results of the tour of South Africa by the Australian rebel cricket teams. The Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) even endeavoured to pressure me to censor my South African visit, which I undertook only in an attempt to understand a complex issue.

The African National Congress seeks through violent means a short cut to power. Why has not this Government seen, as it does with every other nation and many dictatorships, that negotiation and dialogue can be profitable? The change in direction in South African politics is not just regrettable; it may well destroy the opportunity for dialogue across lines of colour, politics and religion with a view to establishing a non-racial and representative government.