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Thursday, 10 May 1984
Page: 1929

Senator GRIMES (Minister for Social Security)(1.56) —Mr President, I rise briefly to speak because of the two important speeches that have been made by Senator Lajovic and Senator Missen. There are three aspects that I will refer to briefly. First of all, Senator Missen and Senator Lajovic have made detailed and serious complaints about the treatment of Mr Georgiev by various departments in this country, and I take that seriously. I will certainly take that up with the relevant Ministers. I note that one complaint is about my own Department and I will certainly have that investigated. I am not in a position to give any detailed answers on any of the matters that have been raised, but I can assure honourable senators I will take up that matter.

The second aspect is the matter of what the Australian Government, what the Prime Minister himself and, I suppose, generally what the Department of Foreign Affairs can do about someone who is in difficulty with a closed society such as Bulgaria. I can appreciate Senator Lajovic's feelings and I can appreciate that he feels very strongly about this, as I believe we all should. My name apparently was not on that letter, but if someone had asked me I would have put my name on it. The only thing I would like to say is that I recently attended Socialist International, which is an international organisation of democratic socialist parties, chaired by Willy Brandt. As everyone here knows, he is a great socialist and a great democrat. Because a society like Bulgaria uses the term socialist in its title, it does not mean that all of us who would call ourselves socialists should be cast in that same mould. I hope that Senator Lajovic's frequent use of the expression during his speech was not aimed at anyone on this side, as it sometimes is.

I can assure honourable senators that I will take up this matter. I can assure them that I believe we should all keep pressure on Bulgaria, as we keep pressure through Amnesty International on Chile, on Rumania, and on other countries who are severely restricting the rights of their citizens in this way. I think that in very closed societies, that is about as much as we can do as individuals but that pressure does sometimes work, and I think we all should continue to apply it, both as individuals, as members of Amnesty International, and as members of governments and oppositions. I will take up those matters. I will make sure that we get some replies. Certainly, if we get replies of the standard that Senator Missen and Mr Maher seemed to have received, I can assure honourable senators I will join with them on another occasion in condemning that sort of behaviour.