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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2139


Senator JESSOP(10.48) —I rise on the adjournment because I feel it necessary to explain the reasons why I asked a question of the Minister for Resources and Energy, Senator Gareth Evans, representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) last Tuesday and why I issued a Press statement last Friday calling on the Government to investigate claims that the Australian Council of Churches was funding Tamil groups which had links with Tamil terrorists. This explanation is necessary because the honourable member for Throsby (Mr Hollis), who I understand is a member of the Socialist Left of the Australian Labor Party, accused me, in the adjournment debate in the House of Representatives last Tuesday, of making an unfounded attack on the ACC. Today in Question Time, in reply to a question from Senator Bolkus, who is also a member of the Socialist Left, Senator Evans condemned me for making what he described as `irresponsible and malicious' allegations about the Australian Council of Churches. I believe that I had every right to ask questions about the Australian Council of Churches concerning its aid program to Tamil groups in southern India, particularly as I have had many representations from congregational members of churches associated with the Council. I reject the suggestion that it was an unfounded attack.

For the information of the Senate and the public I will outline some of the projects funded by the Australian Council of Churches to demonstrate why I thought it necessary to ask some questions. It must be remembered, as I read out some of these aid projects, that people who donate money to the Christmas Bowl appeal do so under the impression that it is going to relieve starvation and sickness. The following are some details taken from the 1985 annual report of the Australian Council of Churches: The ACC gave $25,741 to a Tamil group in Madras, southern India, called OFFER, which stands for the Organisation for Eelam Refugee Rehabilitation. An amount of $24,224 was given to a Tamil group called PEAL, which stands for People Education for Action and Liberation. Last Friday the Australian newspaper reported the Sri Lankan High Commissioner as having said there were grounds for `suspicions' about these two Tamil groups. The Australian group, Christians for Justice and Peace, was also reported to have said that there was a strong suggestion that `money given by people who thought they were feeding babies has gone to political groups which support terrorists'. Therefore, I believe it was responsible of me to ask the Government to look into these allegations against the Australian Council of Churches' so-called complicity in giving Christmas Bowl money to so-called humanitarian support groups of terrorists, particularly as these donations are subsidised by the Australian taxpayer in the form of tax deductions. I also stated in my Press release:

There is ample evidence to demonstrate that the ACC has indirectly supported the Communist Party of the Philippines and its military wing, the New Peoples Army.

The latter organisation was described by the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence in September 1986-Mr President, you should remember this-as a `Marxist-Leninist movement aimed at the revolutionary transformation of the Philippines'. I would like to present some facts and honourable senators can then determine whether the Australian Council of Churches is indirectly supporting the Communist Party of the Philippines or not. In its annual report in 1982, the Australian Council of Churches indicated that it had given $4,180 to Australia-Asia Workers Links. Australia-Asia Workers Links is the centre of a group of solidarity groups including the Philippines Resource Centre. The Australian Council of Churches also gave $6,000 to the Philippines Resource Centre according to its 1984 annual report. In 1982, John Halfpenny of the Amalgamated Metal Workers and Shipwrights Union was instrumental in setting up Australia-Asia Workers Links. This group, in turn, established the Philippines Workers Solidarity Fund and has publicly solicited funds for the May First Movement. The May First Movement openly collaborates with unions in the Philippines which are in solidarity with the Communist Party.

John Halfpenny's Australia-Asia Workers Links has three known sources of funding. The three sources are Force Ten, the Australian Council of Churches and Community Aid Abroad. Force Ten, an organisation jointly sponsored by the Australian Catholic Relief and the Australian Council of Churches, has provided funding for John Halfpenny's group through the Asia Partnership for Human Development-APHD. APHD gave $14,000 in 1983 and $12,000 in 1984. The Australian Council of Churches gave $4,180 in 1982 and Community Aid Abroad gave $3,200 in 1983 and $5,000 in 1984 to that particular organisation. I suggest that most members of the public, including many members of church congregations, would be reluctant to donate money to an organisation which John Halfpenny was instrumental in establishing. Even if people dismiss the fact that the May First Movement has strong links with the Communist Party of the Philippines, the important and indisputable fact is that the Australian Council of Churches, the Australian Catholic Relief, and Community Aid Abroad give money to a group associated with John Halfpenny's Amalgamated Metal Workers and Shipwrights Union. I regard it as disturbing that these aid groups, to which people donate money under the impression that they are feeding hungry children, are funding a John Halfpenny inspired organisation which is blatant about its communist connections here in Australia and also in the Philippines.

There has been a public debate ensuing for a number of months now in the Uniting Church newspaper, Church and Nation, concerning the accountability of the Australian Council of Churches for Christmas Bowl money. Christians for Justice and Peace asked Jean Skuse, the General Secretary of the Australian Council of Churches, a series of 36 questions about three months ago and she has refused to answer them up until now. I believe that people who donate money to the Christmas Bowl under the impression that it is helping to feed hungry children have a right to know the full details of how and where this money is spent. One only needs to read the 1985 annual report of the ACC in order to become curious as to how the money is applied. For example, the ACC has given more than $40,000 to Nicaragua. Christians for Justice and Peace has asked the ACC whether it is true that this project was a socialist left initiative of David Groves of the Food Preservers Union of Australia and whether this money went straight to the Nicaraguan Government. I would also like to know the answer to that question.

The ACC also gave $4,000 in 1985 to the African National Congress and $5,000 to SWAPO, the South West African Peoples Organisation, to assist in establishing information offices in Australia. Both the ANC and SWAPO are self-confessed terrorist organisations. The Minister for Resources and Energy (Senator Gareth Evans), in reply to a question from Senator Bolkus, stated:

The Government's views on the use of violence to achieve political ends are very well known. We give no encouragement to terrorist groups-

this is in spite of the fact that the Government has allowed these terrorist groups to establish offices in Australia-

and would naturally be deeply concerned at any evidence of such groups receiving assistance from Australia. I repeat, as I said at the outset, that no such evidence has been forthcoming regarding the Australian Council of Churches activities in South Asia, the Philippines or anywhere else.

This statement is suggesting that there is no evidence that the Australian Council of Churches has given money directly to a terrorist group. I have never said that the ACC has given money directly to a terrorist group for the purpose of providing weapons. In fact, I have never made that suggestion at all. The Government and the Australian Council of Churches clearly recognise, or should, that my concern has always been that the ACC may be giving money to groups which are linked to terrorist and communist organisations. In other words, ACC money does not buy weapons, but it assists non-military groups which are supporters of revolutionaries. If this is the case, such so-called humanitarian aid would free up other funds for use in military activities.

It has reached the stage where such evidence needs to be produced so that my concerns and the concerns of many other people, including congregations from the churches represented by the ACC, are answered rather than my just having to rely on the word of both the Government and the ACC on these matters. The ACC has refused to answer questions on accountability in the Uniting Church newspaper, Church and Nation, and therefore I believe it is doing a disservice to its congregations. I would like to know why church money is given to John Halfpenny's group, Australia-Asia Workers Links, and for what purpose this particular money is used. I intend to make these concerns known to the ACC, Community Aid Abroad and the Australian Catholic Relief organisation. I sincerely hope that they will be able to satisfy my concerns and the concerns of many of their donors that their money is being directed to bona fide humanitarian organisations and that this money is reaching the needy people who are starving, hungry or sick in the countries to which this money is sent. I think that the Australian Council of Churches has a clear responsibility to answer the 36 questions that I mentioned before which hitherto have not been answered. The ACC should make a public statement in order to assure me and the many people in the congregations of these churches associated with that organisation that their money is being directed in the right way. I will continue to pursue that course, and I will continue to pursue it through the ACC until I get the answers that satisfy those questions. I think that clearly answers the accusations of Mr Hollis, the left wing member of the other place, and also Senator Bolkus who asked a dorothy dix question today.