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Tuesday, 10 May 1994
Page: 521

Senator HILL (Leader of the Opposition) (5.14 p.m.) —I am pleased to respond on behalf of the coalition parties in the Senate to the statement that the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Gareth Evans) has just given. The speech I am giving is one that I have wanted to give for a long time, and I am sure that that is the sentiment of all in this chamber. It is certainly the sentiment of the Liberal Party of Australia and the National Party of Australia. Also, on a personal note, as one who has visited South Africa a number of times, both before I became a senator in this place and since, and as one who has witnessed the struggle at first hand, there is something even a little more exhilarating to now recognise what has occurred.

  I take the opportunity to congratulate President-elect Nelson Mandela. This evening he will become President of the Republic of South Africa. All South Africans deserve to be congratulated, however, on their new beginning.

  This is a `good news' story. Perhaps `good news' stories are too rare in a world still of so many troubles but occasionally one does occur. It is a victory for democracy after a long and difficult struggle. Really, it is an end to an evil, racially structured system. Finally, the majority have the very basic right to participate in a new democracy—to participate through the vote and have the potential to govern.

  South Africans have joined together in a democratic expression and have now started a new journey together. From the political struggle, however, they now face the social and economic struggle, and that should not be underestimated. I think it is fair to say that true equality for all South Africans is still a long way off, but a start has been made.

  I might just dwell for a moment on Nelson Mandela the man. There is no doubt that he has earned his place in history as a very great man, not just because of his determination for his cause, not just because of the personal sacrifice that he made—27 years in gaol—not just because of his obviously enormous intellectual and personal capacities, but particularly because of his courage and his dignity. That he could suffer for so long and yet put all that behind him with no apparent malice at all and no apparent feelings of vengeance, that he could come out of gaol after, as I said, nearly three decades imprisonment and then pursue peacefully a political goal with the sort of dignity that he demonstrated, has in fact set him as an example and inspiration to many all over the world well beyond South Africa. So he justly deserves his place in history as a great man.

  I also want to take the opportunity to congratulate F.W. de Klerk, who is still president and about to hand over the mantle to Mr Mandela. I congratulate also the more enlightened leadership of the National Party in South Africa. It, under the leadership of F.W. de Klerk, recognised that the way the minority had chosen was unfair and unjust and had to be changed.

  There were many—from time to time, I think I might have been among them—who thought that the minority in South Africa would not give up power without violent conflict. There was a clear feeling that the minority—some because of concern of losing power or privilege; some because they felt that they had earned their particular wealth or opportunity; but some simply out of straight fear of the unknown—would not give up their position without further conflict. The change in attitude that occurred, as was demonstrated in the white referendum, I think can be very much attributed to F.W. de Klerk. Through it, I think that he has also justly earned his place in history as an enlightened leader.

  There are, of course, many individuals—and Senator Evans mentioned a few; people like Helen Suzman—who made a special contribution, but it seems to me, from my observation, that there is a wider group that also deserves credit. I had the privilege to visit South Africa about a year ago with a few of my colleagues from this chamber, including Senator Rod Kemp. We observed, at the time of the constitutional debate, the enormous obstacles that still appeared between that time and the achievement of a peaceful transition. Nevertheless, we returned to Australia believing that it would occur.

  What gave us confidence was not only the sort of leadership which I have already mentioned, but also the fact that it was apparent to us that there was a majority of ordinary South Africans from all races and all political groups who wanted it to occur and were prepared to commit themselves to the building and the challenge of a new South Africa. In other words, they had determined not only that it should occur but also that it was just and proper and it must occur, and they wanted to be part of that challenge. It was our assessment that that quiet majority in the middle, putting aside the minority of extremists on all sides, would ensure that this peaceful transition came about. It seems to me that this is also very much their victory.

  Of less importance, it seems to me, but nevertheless useful, have also been the efforts of government and individuals worldwide who have encouraged, firstly, the need for change, and, secondly, the practical aspects of change. We have had debate from time to time over the years about the best ways in which the international community could be helpful. We had the complex debate on sanctions. There is probably little purpose gained in reliving that debate. Particular individuals—such as Malcolm Fraser on our side who, I must say, was graciously mentioned by Senator Gareth Evans in his speech—played a major part in galvanising a recognition, perhaps through more conservative Australia and the likes of Malcolm Fraser in other developed countries, that we also must not be afraid of change in South Africa and must be prepared to constructively work for it.

  That is what we have sought to do in our way. The fact that we have from time to time argued that the international sanction regime was not the best way to achieve that goal was not, as some have said from time to time in this place, to try to fight a rearguard action against change but to look for the most constructive way in which the international community could contribute to change. As a Liberal, I am pleased to stand here today and recognise the particular contribution that our former leader Malcolm Fraser played in that regard.

  The African National Congress has won the election and it is to be congratulated. As you know, Mr Deputy President, we have not been blind supporters of the ANC. I must say that over the years some of its policies have caused me great distress, perhaps none more so than the policy of liberation before education, which resulted in a generation of young South Africans missing the opportunity for education. But I guess it is easy to be judgmental from afar and from the environment of peace and protection within which we live, and so those debates also are now behind us. There are good people in the ANC, some of whom I have met at the leadership level, that I have confidence will play a significant role in leading the new South Africa.

  I must also mention the challenge ahead. I do so against the background that we all recognise that expectations have now reached an enormous high. There is this feeling of exhilaration—Senator Evans spoke of it—in terms of the long queues of people who participated in the democratic process and took the opportunity to vote in an air of great excitement. But the path ahead—particularly, as I said, the path to economic equality and social equality—is going to be incredibly difficult. I hope that when South Africa settles down to address the shortcomings in education, health, housing and jobs, the international community will offer the country and the people as much support as possible and at least as much support as it put into endeavouring to influence political change.

  There are ways that we in the more fortunate world can help. We can help directly with direct aid. Senator Evans has announced a small extra contribution from the Australian government in that regard, and we on this side of the chamber welcome that. We can also help in encouraging as quickly as possible the further development of trade and industry. I, for one, on behalf of this side of the chamber, am pleased to have been associated with the development of Australian South African business groups in both Sydney and Melbourne. The more we can now get in, free of a sanctions regime, and trade with South Africa, the more we can help it build its economy and bring wealth that can be distributed in perhaps a more equitable way than in the past. So I trust that the international community will continue to offer constructive help in the spirit that it also was determined to bring about change.

  Looking further down the track, a new South Africa can provide a lead for the whole of Africa, a continent where we can find success stories but where there are also so many sad cases, particularly when one witnesses the horrifying visual account of events occurring in places such as Rwanda at the moment.

  We take this opportunity to congratulate all South Africans of goodwill on their victory. We wish them well in their challenge of building a new South Africa, and we trust that Australia and other democracies throughout the world will get behind them and give them positive support in that challenge.