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Thursday, 28 February 1985
Page: 348

Senator MASON(4.27) —The Australian Democrats are in favour of Senator Baume's motion, which is something that has been considered by the Baltic Council, I think, for some years now. It is a very considered motion. It is something that was given careful thought. It has been negotiated and, to my knowledge, it went into the hands of all political parties, including the Australian Labor Party, a year or more ago. The motion was on the Notice Paper during the last Parliament. The motion is, in a sense, an act of faith and, I might say, an act of solidarity, by the Baltic peoples. I respect it as such. I make those initial comments only to make the point that the wording of the motion is simply not a case of wordiness. In other words, it has a significance which rather goes beyond that. It is something to which the Baltic people in Australia have put their minds. The motion represents the consensus view of what they feel they want to say. I think it is reasonable for those of us in this place who support their aspirations and beliefs to show some respect for that.

I am concerned that the Labor Party should at this stage be proposing an amendment to the motion, because it is not something which has just been dropped in here over the last week. It has been around for a long time and, to my certain knowledge, it has been made available to the Government before. If the Government wanted to change the motion a process of consultation would have occurred at some time in the past which would have permitted more time being made available for us to consider the change. On the face of it, the Australian Democrats will not support the Labor Party's amendment. We believe it is an unnecessary watering down of the situation. This is, after all, an expression of the Senate's opinion. We feel the Senate has the right to express these views if indeed a majority of honourable senators should so decide.

Finally, an amendment has been circulated in the name of the Australian Democrats. That amendment was the product of a certain amount of negotiation in this chamber. On balance and on mature consideration of the matter we have decided to withdraw the amendment, partly for the reasons that I have already stated in my speech. We are dealing with a well-considered and carefully thought out motion. The sponsors have had a long time to consider it and are in favour of it. As a result I will not move the amendment which has been circulated in our name. We will not be moving any amendments other than one which I discussed with Senator Baume earlier. He has indicated that it would be sensible to take out that part of paragraph (c) (iii) which refers to agenda item 9; that is, the rights of people under colonial reign or alien domination to update the resolution. I believe that is reasonable.

Senator Peter Baume —We thank you for that suggestion.

Senator MASON —I thank Senator Baume. I think that has tidied up the motion. The Australian Democrats, and I particularly, have had a good deal of association with the Baltic peoples in their functions and daily lives in our communities. I do not think anybody in this chamber or in the other place would disagree with me when I say that Australia has no better citizens and that we are fortunate to have these people among us. As far as I know, they have a negligible crime rate. They are most untroublesome citizens compared to others. I will not draw invidious comparisons, but I do wish to make the point that these people who have come to us have made good citizens.

The second point I wish to make is that they have come to us from a troubled and unhappy background, and they are not the only people to have done that. I have said to them from time to time, and I believe this is worth repeating here, that perhaps they are in a better position to appreciate the necessity for real human rights and perhaps in some ways those of them who are Australian citizens now are better guardians of human rights in this country than those of us who were born in this country. I was born in New Zealand, but the situation in that country is similar. I say that because Australia is a happy country and, apart from some brief experiences during World War II and at Darwin, we have not been invaded or been a captive country. Hopefully, there is no prospect of that happening. Yet there is always necessary, in every free society, a certain degree of vigilance. I feel that it is probably those who have learnt this lesson the hard and bitter way who are prepared to exercise that vigilance in a useful way in this society.

Senator Robert Ray —That is why they all support ANZUS.

Senator MASON —The Australian Democrats feel that Australia, as a middle power, as a relatively small group of people in terms of population, also has an involvement with the Baltic states. We might well say: 'There, but for the grace of God, go I'. It is just a matter of geography. Some nations are unhappy in their geographical position. Certainly the Baltic states are. As with some of the middle European states, their boundaries have been constantly fought over and changed. Because we have had immunity from that sort of situation until now, it does not mean that that will always be the case. I am not one of those who see any immediate threat, but the point is that at some future time there may be a threat. We, as a country that has a small population, may well feel that we can appeal to the rest of the world against the intrusion into our own rights, against the violation of our territory and the enslavement of our people. If we do not at this stage stand up for other people who are in that position, what moral right will we have in the future to expect any support of that kind?

Senator Robert Ray mentioned a little while ago that the Labor Party supports ANZUS. That may well be so. I take it he is making a reference to the Australian Democrats' desire to assert our view as a small country in relation to the American alliance and to have our point of view taken heed of. That is all we are doing. If Senator Ray wants to say that we are anti-American or anti-ANZUS he is wrong. We have made that point time and again. We do think all Australians, including people from the Baltic states, are citizens of this country and have certain rights to decide their own future. I would have thought that the Baltic people would have been among the first to agree that the situation is such that we, as a sparsely populated country, ought to have that right, that small nations ought not to be railroaded into doing certain things. That is what has happened to the Baltic states. They have been invaded and the people have been enslaved and tortured. They are told, in effect: 'You will become Soviet citizens'. This motion stems from that situation.

Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia are all independent countries with their own history, languages and cultures. That has been the case for a long time. Honourable senators can read about those kingdoms during medieval times. Even then they were in a state of war, but at least they maintained their independence. But the history of the domination of these countries by Tzarist Russia, and later the Soviets and Nazi Germany, is appalling. During their brief 22-year period of political independence the Baltic states progressed strongly economically and had a flowering of their culture. After 1940 they were subject first to German and then to Soviet invasions and atrocities. It is generally accepted that 133,500 people at least were killed immediately or deported by the Soviets and Nazis in an effort to break all resistance to foreign domination. During 1980, and especially since the Polish crisis, the Soviet Union increased repression in all of the Baltic states to attempt to control the groundswell of nationalistic sentiment which survives throughout the region, despite nearly two generations of foreign occupation. I find those stories which have been coming to me over the last two, three or four years the most tragic of all because, in effect, these are the torments of people who are trying to do something now, who are not prepared to accept defeat or subjugation even after a long time. To destroy that attempt to assert an independent human spirit is among the grosser crimes of the Soviet Union.

The three Baltic states were unaware that, under the terms of the German-Soviet pact, virtually the entire Baltic region had been conceded by the Germans to become Soviet territory. I think that was the initial sell-out. Within eight months of the arrival of Soviet military personnel the Soviets had accused the Baltic states of failing to fulfil the terms of the mutual assistance pact and Soviet occupation placed the Baltic states under direct military rule, with the dismantling of the existing governments. Twelve months later the entire region was under brutal Nazi occupation until the end of 1944 when it was again under brutal Soviet occupation.

I reiterate: The Australian Democrats, and I particularly, believe this motion is very important. It is not something which concerns just the Baltic people, who are a minority in this country. It is something which is intimately concerned with the rights of people everywhere, and because of that I believe it should have support. I am deeply concerned that the Labor Party should seek to amend the motion at this stage. I said that at the beginning, and I say it again. I would have thought that what is in the motion is something that this Parliament ought to have been able to agree on. I think it would have been a significant tribute to a significant minority of our people if that were to happen. I maintain that appeal. I have withdrawn the amendment which I proposed in that interest, because I did not see why we should fiddle with this. It is okay as it stands. I appeal to the Labor Party to adopt the same spirit of consensus, the same non-political spirit which we are looking for, something above politics, and to withdraw its amendment and let this chamber pass the motion in accord.