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Thursday, 9 May 1985
Page: 1683


Senator MISSEN(5.58) —I desire to speak briefly on this subject. It is, of course, impossible to deal with this subject in five minutes and I had intended to speak in the adjournment debate at greater length on the general matter of relations with South Africa. However, this is too important a subject to let the matter go at this stage without reference to it, although no justice can be done to the topic in so short a period. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Hayden, has set down a voluntary code of conduct to apply to Australian companies which operate in South Africa. There appear to be about 75 companies in all that come within that category and the code of conduct is not unique. It is very similar in formation to the code that applies in the United States of America, which is called the Sullivan code, the European Community code, to which Britain and the other nations of the European Community belong, and to the code which operates in Canada.

The position is outlined rather fully by Mr Hayden in his speech on this matter. I remind honourable senators that Mr Peacock, who spoke in the absence of Mr Macphee who was ill at the time, generally supported the existence of the code but said that he would have reservations if it were to be suggested that the code would be other than voluntary. I think we must endeavour to operate a voluntary code. The experience in Britain has been of fairly substantial acceptance. Approximately 90 per cent of the British companies that operate in South Africa operate under a voluntary system. If Australian companies comply with the requirements of the code, which basically are that they shall improve relations with those who work for them in South Africa, will endeavour to improve the conditions of the workers and will not endeavour to make money out of the low standard of living of the black people, they will benefit this country and South Africa by increasing and improving the present standards of living in that country.

Mr Peacock also said in his reply that we would not favour sanctions. I think there is a strong argument, which I will refer to later this evening, against the idea of boycotts and sanctions, which generally have a history of failure in the economic world and which clearly, in relation to South Africa, would lead to the French, the Israelis and other people taking up the area we would vacate if we ceased to trade with South Africa. We recognise that there has been some improvement in the South African position; there have been minor changes. Whether or not they are of substance can be debated at length, but clearly the desires which South African companies and United States companies in South Africa have recently voiced very vehemently-that there should be an improvement in working conditions and that the doctrines of apartheid should be broken down and put an end to by South Africa-will be helped by the existence of such a code. Consequently, I warmly commend the long discussions that have taken place-under the Freedom of Information Act I obtained a lot of material-which have enabled the Government to put forward this proposal. I hope that it will succeed and that companies in Australia will comply with it and that thereby we will see a useful relationship for Australian companies in South Africa.

Question resolved in the affirmative.