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Tuesday, 4 September 1984
Page: 437

(Question No. 984)

Senator Hearn asked the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 15 June 1984:

(1) Does the Australian Government Trade Commissioner in the Philippines monitor the conditions of Philippine workers producing goods imported into Australia.

(2) Is there a human rights criteria for: (a) imports from Asian countries; (b) overseas aid to Asian Governments; and (c) the granting of export credits.

Senator Gareth Evans —The Minister for Foreign Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) The senator's question might more properly have been addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade as the activities of the Australian Trade Commissioner in the Philippines fall within his portfolio. It might be stated, however, that Australia's commitment to observance of internationally accepted standards of human rights is an important part of the Government's foreign policy. Through our membership in the International Labour Organisation, the Australian Government supports international efforts to improve labour conditions in all countries. We also maintain an interest in the activities of Australian companies in the Philippines. This does not normally extend to a close examination of local working conditions.

(2) The Government has not established explicit human rights criteria for trade or overseas aid. The Government believes that Australia should not automatically withhold commercial and aid contacts from states with adverse human rights records. Nor do such contacts imply any endorsement on our part of the policies of these states.

The Government has considered suggestions that Australian aid to certain countries should be discontinued, but has firmly taken the view that such suggestions overlook the fact that the result of such action would be to punish the most needy people in a developing country without influencing those who direct affairs. At the same time, the Government believes that Australian aid in developing infrastructure and alleviating some of the social and economic problems of developing countries can play a positive role in promoting human rights in recipient countries.

The Government recognises, however, that Australia's commercial, aid and diplomatic relations with other states enable us to maintain a dialogue with them on human rights matters. It pursues such a dialogue with a view to promoting genuine, lasting improvements in human rights. Human rights issues, therefore, are clearly understood to be on the agenda of our bilateral relations with many countries including Asian countries. In seeking to pursue principles embodied in the United Nations Charter and the International Bill of Rights, the Government has a legitimate basis for taking issue with human rights violations in countries throughout the world. The Government's commitment to the promotion of human rights will continue to have an active influence on the conduct of Australia's international relations.