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Thursday, 9 May 1985
Page: 1713


Senator MISSEN(10.37) —Tonight I desire to speak on the subject of Australia's relationship with South Africa. I want to say some of the things that I could not say this afternoon when we were speaking in a brief debate in this chamber on the codes of conduct, a proposal the Government has recently adopted and which I think offers to be useful in relation to the Australian community. I believe that wider questions of relationships with South Africa ought to be discussed and that we should be coming to a conclusion on our views on this matter.

We ought to bear in mind that recent examples suggest that the position in South Africa is getting not better but rather worse. In fact, it is known that recently in the United Nations Security Council, of which Australia is now a member, we took part in debate on resolution 560, which was carried on 12 March 1985 and which strongly condemned the practice of apartheid. The resolution drew particular attention to very recent incidents that had occurred. Mr Hogue, our representative appearing before the Security Council, referred in particular to the great objection Australians have to apartheid, in the belief that it is a crime against human rights and an abuse of human rights which must be deeply resented and fought against by the world, and to the fact that it has led to a situation where greater and greater stress is being shown in South Africa.

The first of the two incidents was the tragic violence and death which occurred at the Crossroads settlement, when some 18 people died. We protested against that and, of course, the United Nations protested as well. The second incident was the recent arrest of the leading members of the United Democratic Front-trade unionists and community leaders who are charged with treason. They are matters of very serious concern.

These cases illustrate the fact that the position appears to be getting worse. The old idea was that certain constitutional changes were being made in South Africa. When I was there in 1982, the authorities were in the process of finalising those changes, or they were talking of them. I then gained the firm impression that such changes were regarded as no more than superficial or cosmetic, and that the proposal for new houses of parliament for coloured and Indian members would not solve the problem. Indeed, we have seen that it has caused great anger among the black people, who have been excluded entirely from the scheme. This has led to a worsening of the problem. Yet at the same time there is within South Africa considerable realisation of the need for something better to be done and an impressive realisation on the part of the employer organisations that South Africa cannot continue on its present course.

What is particularly impressive is a joint statement by eight or more of the major employer organisations covering some 80 per cent of the employment strength of the country. Their members have a long term stake in the development, advancement and prosperity of the people. In a statement in February 1985 they made it clear that they felt that, among other things, these organisations had been to the forefront in successfully urging the South African Government to make meaningful policy changes, especially in certain areas. They gave a list of such changes, which I shall briefly summarise. They include the widening of the labour relationship framework to embrace all workers regardless of race, colour and creed; the opening up of housing to black private ownership, thus effectively reversing the use of black urban housing shortages as a form of influx control; relaxing restrictions on small and informal business activities to give blacks an opportunity to acquire a genuine stake in the economy and to create genuine additional employment opportunities and revising the system of education and training to bring them into line with the needs of the economy and to maximise black aspirations.

Those organisations realise that it is necessary for changes to be made. Their further programs include meaningful political participation for blacks in government and full participation in private enterprise economy for all South Africans, regardless of race, colour or creed, with the common loyalty they would then have for South Africa by that course of action. All in all I believe that the employer organisations in South Africa are showing realism as to some extent is the Government, but undoubtedly powerful forces oppose any change. Political leaders in South Africa, such as the Leader of the Opposition, Dr F. van Zyl Slabbert, have made it very clear that the country has tremendous economic problems. He has pointed to the great necessity for South Africa to overcome these matters by having an informal forum, an open-ended and non-racial one, at which a wide range of constitutional issues could be negotiated or discussed-a novel concept in National Party philosophy. He also sees the release of Nelson Mandela, who is undoubtedly the leader of black Africa, as an important consideration.

In dealing with the subject of South African business, I would mention that, as reported in the Age of 15 January, at that stage its economic leaders were advocating strong change. It is claimed in that article:

In a bold challenge to the Government last week, six major business groups, representing about 80 per cent of South African industry and commerce, laid out an agenda for reform that not only goes far beyond anything envisioned by President Pieter Botha and the ruling National Party but rejects apartheid's whole concept of separate development.

It is necessary for Australia to take a very firm stand at this time because, undoubtedly, there is movement for change in South Africa, but also great dangers that the hatreds which have developed may become so great that there is no way out of the present situation. As I put to leaders of the National Party and the Vice-President of the Republic, who were my luncheon guests when I was there in 1982, did they want their country to put up barriers against the rest of Africa, or did they want to be part of Africa. They said that that was their desire, but they have done very little since then to achieve that aim.

The problem that arises for Australia is twofold. We have obligations under our policy in regard to sport. We have the Gleneagles Agreement to which we are rightfully committed, to ensure that in that important area-an area in which South Africa feels the desire to be part of the world and an area that is of great importance to them-we should stand firm and carry out our obligations. On that aspect the Australian Government and Opposition are generally agreed, although there are some people in this country who point to a certain inconsistency in our attitudes. One finds references in the newspapers to people involved in South Africa economically who are not suffering nearly as badly. The proposed codes of conduct are to apply at first on a voluntary basis. I hope it will stay that way, but, unless that policy is successful, we shall not show the same consistency between sporting and economic policies which is necessary in our attempt to ensure that apartheid is broken down and destroyed.

At present a battle is taking place between those who say, as I do, that codes of conduct offer a real solution as a practicality in this world and those who advocate economic boycotts. Clearly, even in the United States of America there are threats of change and attempts are being made to radicalise the position to enable United States firms to move their investments from South Africa. Yet we all know that if that is done, these opportunities will be taken up by other companies. It is rare in the world to find much success in the application of sanctions or boycotts.

In an interesting article in the Australian on 6 May this year, there was a discussion by Peter Godwin of the Sunday Times, who gave examples of boycotts and sanctions which had been applied in the last 50 years or so. He pointed out that although an embargo was established 25 years ago by the United States in respect of Cuba and had cost the Cuban economy $10 billion, it had no moderating influence on Fidel Castro's policies. Instead, the island grew closer to Moscow. He further pointed out that in 1958 some 70 per cent of Cuba's trade was with the US, but today Cuba is a full member of Comecon, the Soviet economic bloc, which takes up more than 96 per cent of its trade. He further draws attention to similar failures which occurred when there were attempts to put pressure on General Galtieri's regime in Argentina to shorten the Falklands war by halting trade with Argentina. Again, at that stage those attempts did not succeed. He also referred to the freezing of Iranian assets, which likewise did not succeed.

The common and general view is that sanctions and boycotts are not the way to achieve results. Other countries in the world will always take the opportunity to come in and take the place of somebody else. Australia has some 75 companies operating in South Africa to a substantial degree. Australia is not one of the biggest of South Africa's trading partners, but we constitute a fairly important partner. In that event I believe that the codes of conduct should be fairly effective in showing that Australian firms will take action to improve the condition of work and people's living conditions and, without breaking South African laws, will help slowly to break down the gross discrimination which occurs at present in that area.

I want to say a word or two about the codes. Altogether there are some 13 different forms of codes of conduct in other countries. The Economic Community one covers some nine countries. So it is quite common for countries to have this form of setting an example, to expect its firms to operate according to those examples and, most importantly, to ensure that they report regularly so that what they are doing and what efforts are being made to improve conditions in the country can be seen. I hope that this code succeeds. There is substantial belief that it will do as well as the European code, particularly the way in which the British have applied it.

In a number of documents which I have obtained through the auspices of the Foreign Affairs Department and through the use of the Freedom of Information Act there are a number of remarks by respected people abroad who have reported to the Australian Government. I think it would be worth while my quoting some of them. In a document submitted to the foreign Ministry last year this was said:

The definition of Australian companies to which the code will apply makes it clear that attention is focused on those companies which have significant commercial interests in South Africa and employ non-white staff. It is not intended that the Code will apply to such operations as single-person, promotional or representative offices which do not employ non-white staff. While Companies with small minority investments in South African concerns could be encouraged to adhere to the code, it should not be expected of them to the same degree as companies with majority interests.

I believe it is sound common sense to expect compliance with the code by those companies which employ a substantial number of black Africans, which have a substantial interest in the area and which otherwise may appear to be gaining benefit from the poor working conditions of South African workers. In an interesting article by Martin Holland called 'The EEC Code for South Africa: A reassessment' which was supplied to me by the Department an interesting observation is made about the relatively poor standard of living still enjoyed by people who work for British companies. The article said:

A further weakness of the collective policy is that Britain has been the only member regularly and fully to report since the Code's inception in 1977. The other Community members have been less willing partners although recently both German and Dutch reports have been as equally comprehensive.

In other words, that is an interesting example in respect of the EEC code of genuine and effective reportage. I think reportage is all important in this matter. If, as in Europe, other countries are less effective, naturally much less is achieved from the whole undertaking. We do not have the same problem of comparing one country with another, but if we do not ensure that companies readily exercise the necessary reportage we will not know what is going on.

It is said that there is always an alternative to the codes. One alternative is disinvestment, which has become a serious question, particularly in the United States. The report dated September 1984 which the Foreign Affairs Department obtained from our authorities in Washington is interesting in this respect, because it seems to me that disinvestment is the last resort. It can very often mean great weakness for the people who work in a company if other companies are persuaded to cut their investments in South Africa. In this article there is reference to a survey into black opinion regarding disinvestment conducted by the Centre for Applied Social Sciences at the University of Natal. It was commissioned by the United States State Department and tested the opinion of 551 black production workers in industrial areas of the Transvaal, Port Elizabeth and Natal. The article states:

The main outcome of the study was that blacks surveyed supported foreign investment in South Africa and rejected the withdrawal of foreign capital and trade boycotts as a strategy for their liberation. The results of the study also indicated that, while black militancy was increasing, most blacks take a pragmatic view of economic development and employment opportunities and, by and large, do not favour political actions that jeopardise their economic and social wellbeing.

I think it important that that should be taken into consideration. It is true that there are differing views on disinvestment. Bishop Tutu takes the view that at this stage it is not desirable, but he is inclined to put a deadline of a couple of years on the South African Government to give it an opportunity to prove whether it is going to alter its system. On the other hand, as Senator Jessop pointed out today, Chief Gatshu Buthelezi, chief of the Zulu group and a very important, powerful and articulate leader whom I met while I was in South Africa, is not of the opinion that disinvestment is a good idea and believes that the building and strengthening of his own people and of capitalism in the country will be more effective than if they are merely sent to coventry by lack of investment in the country.

Another question which arises in regards to the codes is whether they are to be mandatory. At this stage the Government has chosen that the code should not be mandatory but should be voluntary. In the confidential advice it received on 10 February 1984 on this matter the following objections to compulsory or mandatory codes were raised:

Vagueness in the wording of necessary legislation since the codes themselves leave scope for broad judgments . . .

The difficulty of proving any alleged breach of the code. The imposition of a full scale mandatory code of conduct would more than likely involve Australia in asserting jurisdiction over companies in situations where Australia (and other countries) allege that a state should not exercise jurisdiction.

There was a very considerable problem in that regard. The advice which the Government received and which it obviously has accepted is that it should not be mandatory for a company to be involved in a code but that, once it entered the code, it should be expected to report regularly so that the effectiveness of its work in South Africa can be judged.

It may be said therefore that the judgment by the Government in Australia is the right response at this time. It is strange that for years we in Australia have not had a code. Although we have taken a strong stand in this regard, for which I commend Malcolm Fraser, the previous Prime Minister, we have not enforced or had a code in operation for all this time. I think that is unfortunate. It tended to disparage to some extent the strength of our attack on apartheid. All these matters must be watched from time to time. Circumstances may change. South Africa may change. I believe the Government is quite right to take a firm and strong stand in the sporting field, in transport-Qantas Airways Ltd does not land in South Africa-in the refusal to allow armed services to be provided for South Africa in any way and in providing a decent code of conduct. I believe that these matters at present show that Australia strongly believes in its case and in its opposition to apartheid, that thereby we will stand to gain and that our companies will be playing a part in a battle in the world, particularly in South Africa.