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Thursday, 10 May 1984
Page: 1926


Senator MISSEN(1.42) —I rise in this debate to support Senator Lajovic in the complaint he made. I salute too Mr Georgiev, who is here today and who has fought valiantly for many years to get his wife and children into this country. Of course, he has had a lot of support from individuals, but I regret that he could have had more support from government departments. I think we have something to answer for in this regard. I support everything that Senator Lajovic said. I am one of the signatories to the letter which we sent late last year and to which we have had no reply. But I want to refer in my speech to some of the massive correspondence which exists in Mr Georgiev's file. Georgiev has been fighting this battle not only through his protests and his vigil outside the Bulgarian representative's office, but also in his request to the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), in his request to the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden), in his request to the Commonwealth Ombudsman, in his request to the Attorney-General (Senator Gareth Evans), who could do very little or nothing, and in his request to the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr West). In a number of instances I think there has been a lack of a really serious carrying out of duty in some of the departments of our Government .

I turn primarily to the Foreign ministry. Of course, I advised the Foreign Minister we intended to speak on this matter. There have been years of denial of the use of influence which this Government could have been exercising. I go back further than the term of this Government to that of the previous Government and say that governments in Australia could, before this, have made a much more resolute stand. Since 1981 Australian governments have included his name in the list of names of Bulgarians for whom they have wanted something done by the Bulgarian Government. I do not believe that what they have done has been in any way sufficient. Indeed, despite the massive file that was developed in the Foreign Ministry on this matter last year the Foreign Ministry managed to lose the file entirely. When Mr Georgiev endeavoured through the Freedom of Information Act to get possession of the records on himself and his family he received a letter from the Private Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs saying:

I write to advise you that no such file is held in this office.

The Private Secretary referred it on to the Department. After some leisurely period, on 7 September 1983, Mr Georgiev received a letter from the Freedom of Information section of the Department of Foreign Affairs, in which appears the following:

A quick check of our records indicates the Department holds no file on you either in its Passport or Consular Sections. We do not have any idea of what other section of the Department might hold a file or documents relating to you or your family.

It goes on to say that if he cannot be more specific they will refuse his request under section 15 (2) of the Freedom of Information Act. Very helpful indeed! Yet the file came to light after that, of course, and some documents were reluctantly made available. The file is indeed a very thick file, containing a lot of material and a lot of cables-many of these are in my possession today-relating to the efforts by Mr Georgiev to get his family out of Bulgaria and into this country. The file is, in fact, three centimetres thick, according to the Department, now.

I think there has been a lack of dilgence on the part of the Department in dealing with these matters. Not only has there been a loss of his records, but he has had representations made on his behalf by many members of parliament, including representations which have been made quite assiduously by Mr Michael Maher, a New South Wales Labor member of this Parliament. I pay tribute to him for the completely unsuccessful efforts he has made to get this Government to take action. After he wrote correspondence to the Foreign Minister he received from the Foreign Minister a letter, which is undated but which appears from the contents to have been written late in June or early in July last year, which includes the following:

I regret that my staff have not been able to find your letters nor is there any record that they were received in my office.

Thus Mr Maher has found himself unable to get satisfaction. Mr Maher has also been endeavouring to get the Prime Minister to meet Mr Georgiev but that, after I think a year and a half or two of trial, has not been successful. One wonders at the complete refusal of the Prime Minister to see this man and to hear from him personally. Indeed, early this month Mr Georgiev sent the Prime Minister a letter of some 12 or 14 pages detailing his many complaints. I do not think he has had any acknowledgement yet. The letter bears marks and signs of the trauma through which Mr Georgiev has gone. He feels now that there is a conspiracy against him, and one does not wonder that he feels that way. I suggest that this is something which the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister must take more closely in hand.

In addition to that, and perhaps even more seriously, comes the matter of the cables that have gone forward between our representatives in Yugoslavia-we have no ambassador in Bulgaria and they handle these matters-and the Australian foreign ministry. They are very revealing indeed. They idicate the extent to which the Bulgarian authorities have managed to persuade our representatives when they visit that there may be something in the complaints and charges which are made against Mr Georgiev by the Bulgarian Government. One example of that is a cable which came to Canberra from our embassy in Belgrade, indicating that it had been in touch and a representative had been to Bulgaria. It states despite information received from Mr Gregoriev:

Georgiev's refusal to pay as ''admission of guilt on false charge'' seems at least to admit knowledge of charge but to deny its validity.

The Bulgarians are claiming that Mr Georgiev left the country and was guilty of some charge-I think it is called 'damage to social property'. He does not know what it is about and has no reason to know, but even our own authorities are suggesting that because he refuses to pay a huge bribe to get his family out of Bulgaria that is an acknowledgement of the charge. I very much regret that our representatives who have responsibility for this overseas should be accepting such things. One finds this in a reply from Belgrade to Canberra by cable of 3 March 1983:

In relation to the particular family reunion case-said that Mr Georgiev had left Bulgaria illegally after being charged with some unspecified offence to do with ''damage to social property''. His two children had been placed in the legal custody of his father--

that is, Mr Georgiev's father--

and the grandfather was unwilling to allow the children to join their father in Australia.

That will be demonstrated to be a lie. It continues:

The whereabouts and views of Mrs Georgiev seem not to be known to this official .

It might not be known to this official, but it is certain she has not changed her residence for four and a half years and it is a hypocrisy to say that sort of thing. It goes on:

Mr Georgiev was free to return to Bulgaria under the amnesty referred to in the Bulgarian note.

He has more sense than to do that. It continues:

If however, Mr Georgiev wished his family to join him in Australia it was a matter for him to sort out the wishes of the members of his family still in Bulgaria. Should this be resolved in his favour he would also have to pay an amount of 20,000 lev in settlement of his offence. (This is about dlrs US 15,000 , depending how the exchange rate is calculated).

So a huge payment has to be made. Has our Department of Foreign Affairs protested about that type of blood-money which is to be extorted from one of our Australian citizens? No, it has not. It just passes it on. The Foreign Ministry in Canberra when it replied on 18 March to our representatives in Belgrade at least put his case:

Georgiev will not submit to demand from Bulgarian Government for $15,000 to secure release of wife and children. He sees payment as an admission of guilt on false charge of alleged 'damage to social property'. He is also concerned that, if payment is made, no specified time of release is indicated and that a further three years may elapse before his wife and children are allowed to leave Bulgaria.

Georgiev is in possession of recent letters from his father indicating a willingness for the children to be re-united in Australia.

Despite our advice to contrary Georgiev intends to continue with protest outside consular premises and further proposes to embarrass Bulgarian Government by publicising demand for $15,000.

I say: 'Good on him. It is excellent that he should be fighting like this and doing it honourably'. I do not feel much pleasure in seeing the Department give him contrary advice to mute his complaints against this vicious Stalinist government and its actions. Now I want to say that, in addition to this, our foreign ministry-I must be very short with this-has also taken up something in a seven-page letter which he has written complaining about the actions of Bulgarians here bringing pressure on him and his family. He passes on a remark made to someone that our Prime Minister was a KGB agent. The foreign ministry then concludes, for no reason whatsoever, that he said it himself, that he was making this allegation. It had to be explained, again by Mr Michael Maher, in a reply of 24 October that he did not say so. The officer in charge of the East European Section of the foreign ministry here in Canberra made a complaint to Mr Milteniy, who was the ethnic affairs officer in the Labor Council of New South Wales, contending that Mr Georgiev was making this allegation against the Prime Minister. Of course it is denied and Mr Michael Maher denies it.

Finally, I regret that our Foreign Ministry has not taken a whole-hearted attitude and, in fact, has not stood up strongly in this matter. I just mention two other departments. The Department of Social Security gave a family allowance to this man for some years, from which he endeavoured to pay moneys across to his family. The Department stopped the allowance this month. Apparently it has been decided not to allow it any longer. Perhaps it thinks there is no chance of his getting his wife and children into this country. I think that is a very retrograde act. It is revealed in a letter dated 1 November 1983 from Mr Maher to the Minister for Social Security (Senator Grimes) that people from the Department of Social Security were ringing his lodgings-somehow they got the phone number-complaining that he was overpaid. The Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs has also delayed the issue of visas. I think it has something to answer for there.

Also the victimisation that he has been getting from the Bulgarian authorities is something that our Government ought to be complaining about. Indeed, Senator Lajovic has told us about what has been done to his communications, and this has not been resolved by the Department of Communications. That has been difficult. But when he protested in May 1983 outside the Sydney Town Hall, where a Bulgarian exhibition was being held, what happened? A complaint came from Bulgaria to our representatives in Yugoslavia about his doing that. We got cables from Yugoslavia telling us that the Bulgarian Ambassador, Mr Staykov, had called and had handed over a note complaining that the workings of their Consulate-General in Sydney were being hampered by the demonstration outside that office by Mr Georgiev seeking a reunion of his family from Bulgaria. We pass on complaints and apparently we accept complaints. We accept the police in New South Wales removing Mr Georgiev from outside the Town Hall, where he had permission to obtain signatures for his petition.

I say also that this man has not received the sort of support in this country that he should. It is significant that one of the matters raised was that if he were only working for the KGB he would be all right, but unfortunately he was not willing to do that. We have been told of the public support and of the petitions and of the attempts to get him help. I put it to this Government that it should do more than that. The Prime Minister should see him. The issue should be raised in international forums like the Human Rights Commission. We should put on record our objection to the beastliness of Stalinist Bulgaria. We should not contribute here in this country to his difficulties, but rather we should take a much more full blooded attitude and try to ensure that this type of victimisation does not happen to him and does not happen to other people in this country who are Australian citizens.