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Thursday, 28 February 1985
Page: 347

Senator RICHARDSON(4.17) —On behalf of the Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans) I move:

Leave out all words after sub-paragraph (b) (v), insert:

(c) calls upon the Government of the USSR to comply with the obligations imposed upon it by the international agreements on civil and political rights to which it is a party; and

(d) requests:

(i) the Australian Government to maintain its policy towards the issue of the Baltic States, including non-recognition de jure of their incorporation into the Soviet Union; and

(ii) that the Australian Government should keep under review the possibility of intervention, through appropriate channels, for example, the United Nations Human Rights Commission, on the matter of human rights in the Baltic States.

In beginning my contribution, may I apologise for the absence of Senator Evans who has been called away on urgent Cabinet business. He is in his office solving the problems of the nation.

Senator Peter Baume —Now we are really frightened.

Senator RICHARDSON —I am just trying to settle the honourable senator's nerves. The Government concedes paragraphs (a) and (b) of Senator Baume's motion. In doing so the Government acknowledges that the people of the Baltic states have been done a grievous harm and that that harm continues. It understands the concern of members of the Baltic community over the fate of their homelands. Like a number of other senators and members of the House of Representatives from the Government side, I have attended a number of Baltic functions in recent times. The more one hears, reads or sees of these problems, the harder it becomes not to be moved by the plight of the Baltic people.

The program of Russification which was outlined by Senator Baume in his contribution is something that ought to concern us all. Of course, much of that is not something for which those in the Baltic community have been singled out. In fact, those who reside in the Soviet Union have from time to time to endure the opening of their mail, restrictions on their travel and refusal to be permitted to go abroad. Soviet Jews have experienced immigration difficulties for a long time. These difficulties are also applied to the people of the Baltic states. Almost half of the population of places like Latvia is now no longer Baltic and this is a grievous blot on the record of the Soviet Union. One wonders why a great and mighty nation such as that would need to behave in that way towards those three small states.

The Government does not recognise de jure the incorporation of the Baltic states into the Soviet Union. That is essentially the position, I think, of all parties. Like Senator Harradine, I would have preferred a unanimous resolution in the chamber. Unfortunately, the Government cannot agree to paragraph (c) (iii), which refers to the Department of Foreign Affairs being directed to take all necessary steps in order to implement the proposed resolution. There are, of course, distinctions between those matters that are for parliamentary action and those matters that are for Executive action. There can be no doubt that this is a matter more properly for Executive action. The form that that action might take will have to be co-ordinated, not just with what the Australian Government might seek to do, but with all of those other governments which will seek to raise the matter of the Baltic states in international forums.

The first point to make about raising this matter in international forums is that any attempts to raise it at the United Nations under the terms of decolonisation are unlikely to succeed. One has only to look at the political makeup of the United Nations to know that those sorts of attempts are doomed to failure. They amount only to grandstanding and are more likely to do one's cause harm than good. The Government's real commitment is to try to do some good for the cause of the people of the Baltic states. Therefore, the Government does not believe that that sort of grandstanding at the United Nations will do anyone any good. I must say that I actively agree with the Government on that stance.

When one looks at the European Parliament's resolution it must be remembered that the resolutions of the European Parliament are not binding on member states. All that member states are directed to do is to look at that resolution of the European Parliament for guidance and to see what action they can take as individual states in supporting it. When one looks at what has happened since the European Parliament's resolution of more than a year ago, one sees that, in fact, the governments of Europe have not had this at the top of their agenda. Obviously there will be many and varied reasons for that and they will vary from government to government. The reality is that if we are to have any impact at the United Nations in support of the people of the Baltic states, we will have to co-ordinate our action with the governments of Europe, the Unites States of America and all those other countries which are taking an interest in human rights. It is in the human rights area, not in the decolonisation and self-determination areas, that we are more likely to achieve some good for the cause. That is the direction the Government wishes to take.

The Government can find no disagreement with that part of Senator Baume's motion which refers to the history of the Baltic states, what is going on in them now and whether there is Russification, arrest, imprisonment or any form of tyranny. As we look at any resolution that can come within the ambit of the United Nations resolution 1514, we realise that the terms of reference of the Sub-committee on Decolonisation and political realities being what they are, there is simply no way to go.

Senator Peter Baume —Are you talking about (c) (ii)?

Senator RICHARDSON —No. I know that Senator Baume has changed (c) (ii). I understand that. We all know that agenda item 9 has been dispensed with. However, there will be other opportunities for the Government to raise this matter. Some of them, I am told, will come up in the next few weeks. As I said at the beginning of this speech, this must remain-I hope all honourable senators understand it-a matter for Executive action. The Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden), in conjunction with the Foreign Ministers of those other countries which have an interest, must be given the opportunity to determine the correct course of action. They must not be bound by resolutions of the Senate which may be found to be inappropriate within a matter of days. The flexibility that is required by the Executive in this matter cannot be understated. It is, to say the least, extraordinary that the Senate should seek to direct the Minister in this way. It is hardly what one would call normal form in this place. If the objectives of this motion are to be effectively pursued, like-minded governments have to judge the propitious time for the most effective intervention. That has not happened so far. Any unilateral action on our part can also be potentially damaging to the cause. I hope that is not something anyone here is about.

Accordingly, I commend the amendment that has been circulated in the name of Senator Gareth Evans. It certainly ought to satisfy the Baltic community in terms of establishing the depth of Government commitment to its cause. Not only are we committed to showing that we as a government are as committed as anyone in the nation to its cause; we are also concerned to do some good for that cause. The real test of doing good for the cause is what the Government can do in the international arena. If we are to be given the opportunity to approach it in concert with like-minded nations, it is to be hoped that the Senate will not seek to direct the Executive in a way that has never before been deemed appropriate, or rarely so, and certainly is not now.