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Tuesday, 10 May 1994
Page: 523


Senator KERNOT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (5.28 p.m.) —The Australian Democrats, too, are pleased today to be associated with this ministerial statement on South Africa. The struggle for democracy, justice and human rights has been a long one, but we know it has been a just one. The first democratically conducted elections and the elevation of Nelson Mandela to the presidency is one of those truly historic events to which future generations of South Africans will always be proud to refer. Today is a time to pay tribute to both Nelson Mandela and former President de Klerk, who together showed remarkable courage and humility in the face of what many would have assumed to be overwhelming obstacles. Their example should serve to remind all politicians throughout the world of what can be achieved for the peoples we seek to represent.

  Over the last few weeks I, along with many Australians, have been very moved when watching scenes on television of hundreds of South Africans standing in long queues simply to exercise their first chance to cast a vote, to exercise that basic democratic right. I felt how much we take that for granted in this country and how we complain about the queues we have on election day for a totally different reason. Like many Australians, I, too, felt the emotion of the moment as we witnessed within those queues the aged and the infirm waiting patiently for hours to have their chance to have a say in how they should be governed. It was one of those rare moments when a picture told a thousand stories, and it certainly reminded me of Steinbeck's theme of the triumph of the human spirit.

  Those of us who have been politically active at some time over the last two decades will be aware of the crime that is apartheid. Many of us were personally involved in the fight to eliminate it. As a nation, I think, Australia can be proud that under both Liberal and Labor Party governments we were involved in rallying the international community to take a stand against this outrageous system of dividing people.

  Today, we can deservedly join in the celebrations of the new South Africa as we mark the end of one traumatic chapter of struggle in that country's history. We join with all South Africans in wishing that country well in the new future and, as Senator Hill has said, the difficult future that lies ahead. No-one underestimates that task. The Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Gareth Evans), in his remarks, has made it clear that Australia is obligated to help in the task of rebuilding the South African nation. The Democrats certainly concur with this pledge.

  We should be realistic, though. If we acknowledge that South Africa's recent past has been a traumatic one, we must acknowledge that the journey ahead for South Africans will also be a struggle. As president-elect, Nelson Mandela is now faced with the task of forging not only a new nation, but one with a different sense of national unity. This may well be President Mandela's most difficult task.

  However, as a starting point, and with the way it represents members from other political groups in a country that has been divided for so long, this is a very constructive start and one which sends an important symbolic message to all South Africans and, beyond that, to the international community. In some sections of South Africa, this new post-election phase of rebuilding is now being referred to as the `second struggle'. In many ways, that is a very applicable and appropriate description.

  One recent documentary feature on the ABC showed a number of black voters being interviewed about their expectations of the future ahead. In response to the question about how long they would give Nelson Mandela and the new government before they expected to get jobs, houses and cars, many replied `two months' or `six months'. That feeling of the need for action is understandable. Nevertheless, it is of great concern that very few people were prepared to concede that life is not going to change overnight. It will take years and years before the real and tangible benefits are brought to these people and before the many injustices and inequalities of the past can be rectified.

  Impatience for immediate results is perhaps going to be the new government's greatest hurdle. Who can blame the people of South Africa for that impatience? After years of oppression and violence, it is understandable that expectations are now so great. I think there are parallels in Australia with people's expectations that ATSIC will be able to solve everything within a few years.

  Senator Hill outlined some of the problems which the new South Africa faces. I want to touch on a couple of them. Officially, unemployment stands at 46 per cent. Official black youth unemployment stands at 57 per cent, with some urban areas recording rates of over 80 per cent. The reality of underemployment is, of course, much worse than this. These are shocking statistics.

  The tragedy of South Africa is made worse by widespread violence. South Africa now records the highest levels of violence and crime of anywhere in the world. The effects of this violence on all South Africans, black and white, are palpable. We need to address the psychology of violence. The danger is that it can give rise to unrealistic notions of entitlement as redress for past wrongs. People can, in turn, seek to use this as a justification for further violence.

  The Democrats welcome the Australian government's indication that our further aid program to South Africa will include a component focusing on good governance and strengthening the various institutions of government. Poverty is widespread. The conditions in the squatter camps of South Africa in many cases represent the worst of Third World conditions. Thousands of black South Africans have absolutely no access to basic medical services, educational services or facilities such as clean water, power and sewerage.

  It is understandable that the ANC election platform relied on the promise of embarking on massive public works programs to provide training and employment for about 2 1/2 million people over the next 10 years. This will be accompanied by the building of one million homes for the homeless and the provision of clean running water and electricity to an additional 2 1/2 million homes. As well, there is a pledge to re-work the education system so that every child in South Africa has access to at least 10 years free and compulsory education. I am sure we all understand the setting of these goals and why they have been chosen as priorities.

  One thing I think we can predict is that the politics of national unity, which is the new South Africa, will mean that compromise is inevitable. It is probably a necessary thing, as acknowledged by Nelson Mandela himself, especially when it comes to the economic policies that need to be implemented.

  Former Democrats leader Janine Haines was in South Africa recently during the election period, as one of a number of Australian observers. She has made the point to us that the rebuilding of South Africa is more than purely an economic task. It will require massive changes in society and in the attitudes of many South Africans. For example, she pointed to the attitude of all South Africans, black and white, to the status of women in society.

  The absence of women candidates during the elections across all the political parties is but one example which underlines this need. The absence of women from senior positions in both business and the public service certainly indicates, as we realise here in Australia, that all South African women have a struggle ahead of them to achieve equality in the workplace and in politics. In fact, for many South Africans it is probably true that, as one struggle has now finished, another one has only just begun. This is certainly true for the women of South Africa.

  Under the circumstances, the Democrats believe that the government's new aid program to South Africa should have also included a component aimed at improving the status of women in society. As we already fund a women in development program in other countries, we think this would have been perfectly appropriate.

  There is another overriding message of hope that must be stressed in any discussion of South Africa; that is, the combined efforts of so many individuals can make a difference and can remedy social injustice. As we look around us in despair at the tragedies of Bosnia, Rwanda and Afghanistan, we are often prompted to feel that it is all too hard or too hopeless. It is tragic that the international community often seems too unwilling to take up—or incapable of taking up and continuing—these further struggles for justice and human rights.

  South Africa will always be an example to us that the efforts of individuals can make the significant difference. When the fight for democracy started all those years ago, how many people in the rest of the world gave the human rights agencies and their struggle for democracy any chance of success? It is an example of human perseverance in the face of adversity. I, too, want to congratulate and pay tribute to the work of Desmond Tutu, Helen Suzman and Walter Sisulu. Their efforts will stand forever. When they were joined by the other nations of Africa, by trade unions from all over the world and by journalists from dozens of countries who chose not to ignore but to highlight injustice, the momentum built until the international community could no longer ignore the need to act.

  We should not forget the role of the Commonwealth in all of this. Despite the attitude of some of its leaders, the Commonwealth persisted with the imposition of economic, commercial, trade and sporting contacts against the South African regime. Australia's efforts in the imposition of such sanctions, and the efforts of so many other nations, undoubtedly helped to bring about the dismantling of apartheid. It proves that sanctions can make a difference when international will is present. As the minister correctly concedes, the imposition of sanctions can often provide the crucial psychological difference to bringing about change in international politics.

  It does provide us with something to reflect on in a wider global sense today because there does remain so much injustice equal in nature to the system of South African apartheid. Just as the international will was finally present to make a difference in South Africa, the Democrats believe that such will could also make a difference elsewhere in the world.

  We do need to examine our actions in relation to other examples of international injustice. Just as we campaigned for so long to free Nelson Mandela, so too should we campaign to free Aung San Suu Kyi from Burma or Xanana Gusmao in East Timor. Just as we saw the injustices of South African apartheid and sought to overturn them, so too do we now have a similar obligation to work for peace and justice in such places as Burma and East Timor. And we should not forget what has happened in Palestine, Cyprus and Bosnia. South Africa proves that it can be done.

  The Democrats are pleased to see that the Australian government is now increasing its level of financial and technical assistance to the new South Africa. We welcome the government's announcement that it will be undertaking a new aid program involving the expenditure of $30 million over the next three years. We join the government in congratulating President Nelson Mandela and the new South Africa. On behalf of the Australian Democrats, I offer our sincere best wishes to all South Africans and hope that the new government will succeed in the task of healing and reconciliation which it has identified as its first priority. We wish them well.