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Thursday, 12 May 1994
Page: 790


Senator SHORT (5.38 p.m.) —in reply—In closing this debate I do not want to take the Senate's time unduly, but some statements have been made by members of the government during the debate, notably by Senator Gareth Evans and Senator Loosley, that cannot be let go unanswered. Senator Hill has already responded to several of them. I congratulate him and thank him for his excellent contribution.

  I will first deal with the quite appalling contribution of Senator Evans who, I remind the Senate, is a no lesser figure than Australia's Minister for Foreign Affairs, which makes him this nation's senior representative of our international interests and through whom our reputation as a nation is judged by other nations. As well, Senator Evans aspires to the position of Secretary-General of the United Nations. I have to say that if any of those people around the world who choose the UN Secretary-General read Senator Evans's contribution last week to this debate, they would surely scratch him off their list of possible candidates once and for all.

  I never thought that I would ever hear the foreign minister of my country demean himself and his country as Senator Gareth Evans did last week. Senator Evans said, amongst other things, that Australia contributed very much in the 1960s and 1970s to what he described as `the destruction of Vietnam and its social environment'. He went on to say that we contributed very much `to the economic environment of grinding poverty which has continued for so long'. He also said that his generation, his government, `should be taking the kind of steps if we are to redress some of that shame'—

some of that `shame'—`and not to contribute any further to the destruction of the country'; that is, Vietnam.

  Senator Loosley's contribution to the debate ran along similar lines. He spoke of Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War as `wrong in moral terms, political terms and in terms of our relationship with the region'. He spoke of `the shameful record of Australian involvement in the Vietnamese War', and on and on he went. To me it was a shameful, un-Australian, anti-American monologue from what used to be called the New Left.

  This Senator Loosley is the same Senator Loosley who Senator Evans has chosen to lead an official so-called consultative delegation to Vietnam in two months time. That delegation was originally to be called a human rights delegation. That title—which has been pointed out today, including by Senator Harradine most recently—has now been dropped, apparently as a result of pressure from the Vietnamese government on Senator Evans and on Prime Minister Keating. It is now to have the innocuous, meaningless, wimpish title of consultative delegation. To what extent human rights issues will be discussed at all, or the human rights situation in Vietnam examined in any detail at all, remains clouded in doubt. But judging by the apologist remarks from Senator Evans and Senator Loosley in this debate, one can only have the gravest doubts about the delegation's activities in this respect. I hope I am wrong; but only time will tell.

  I did not want to reopen the debate on Australia's participation in the Vietnam War when I gave notice of the motion that is the subject of this debate. I said that quite specifically in my opening remarks last week. But Senator Evans and Senator Loosley did reopen the debate in the most appalling, abject, apologist way that I have already discussed in part. As an Australian, I must say that I was ashamed and I was disgusted by their words. Having heard their craven apologias to the communist regime in Hanoi, I now have no doubts that the media reports during Mr Keating's recent visit that he had apologised to the Vietnamese communist government for Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War were well based. If that is so, I say to the Senate that that is a disgrace and a sell-out of our nation. What action could be more un-Australian than that?

  The foreign minister and Senator Loosley have once again attempted the age old tactic of the Left: ignore the facts, ignore the context of the times, and rewrite the history no matter what the cost to truth, to integrity and to morality. The fundamental opening fact that they deliberately choose to ignore, or are too ideologically blind to see, is that Australia's intervention in Vietnam was part of a concerted effort by many nations assisting the South Vietnamese people. The allied effort was designed to prevent communist North Vietnam imposing a Stalinist dictatorship on the south, and using that springboard to capture the whole of Indochina.

  It is a matter of record that immediately after North Vietnamese Army units occupied Saigon in 1975, communist regimes were installed in both Laos and Cambodia. It is also a matter of record, as former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser pointed out so clearly on last night's ABC Lateline program, that the member nations of the then still new and fragile ASEAN were strong supporters of the allied action in Vietnam and greatly feared the fall of South Vietnam to the communists because of the consequences that it could have for them.

  During the Vietnam War it was frequently said that Australia was involved in a civil war. That was the line propagated by Hanoi and its allies in Australia, and it was believed by many people who did not know better. Years after the war ended, some of the communists told the truth. In an interview with French television in 1983, which was reported in the Australian on 28 February of that year, General Vo Bam of the North Vietnamese Army declared that the decision to unleash the war in the south was taken in 1959 by a communist party plenum. That, I point out to the Senate, was a year before the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam was established. The aim, said General Bam, was `to reunite the country'. So much for the myth that the NLF was a genuine nationalist movement.

  Senator Evans and Senator Loosley spoke proudly of their involvement in the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations in the 1960s and the 1970s. Their ideological blinkers have remained firmly in place ever since. Indeed, to my knowledge, no significant member of the Australian Left has ever felt any need to reassess in any way their interpretation of Hanoi's aims or the nature of North Vietnamese totalitarianism.

  But not everyone from the Left who marched in those moratoriums has remained so blind. Some of the important leaders of the New Left movement have come to similar conclusions to those that were stated bluntly and frankly by General Bam. David Horowitz is one in particular. He was no little figure in the New Left movement. Indeed, he was co-founder and co-editor of Ramparts, the flagship publication of the New Left in the 1960s. As a graduate student at the University of California, Berkeley, he organised the first protests against American intervention in Vietnam. In an interview in Human Events in 1985, 10 years after the fall of Saigon to the communists, he said:

In Vietnam itself, the war's aftermath showed beyond any doubt the struggle there was not ultimately to achieve or prevent self-determination but—as various Presidents said, and we denied—a communist conquest of the south.

He went on to add:

Today, the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, whose cause we supported—

that is, the cause the New Left supported—

no longer exists. Its leaders are dead, in detention camps under house arrest, in exile, powerless.

Horowitz went on to say:

America left Vietnam 10 years ago, but today Hanoi's army is the fourth largest in the world and Vietnam has emerged as a Soviet satellite and imperialist aggressor in its own right, subverting the independence of Laos, invading and colonising Laos.

That was 10 years after the end of the Vietnam War. Denis Warner, one of Australia's most perceptive commentators on foreign affairs, wrote in the Melbourne Herald in 1985—again, 10 years after the war—of academic research that indicated that `at least 65,000 Vietnamese were executed in South Vietnam for political reasons between 1975 and 1983'. In the years after the fall of Saigon, it has been estimated that over one million Vietnamese were imprisoned in communist re-education camps, which were similar to the POW camps in which Australians were imprisoned after the fall of Singapore in 1942. An unknown number of Vietnamese prisoners perished of starvation, torture or overwork.

  After 1975, another million or more fled their country in leaking boats in an effort to escape the Marxist paradise which Ho Chi Minh and others had prepared for them. An indeterminate number perished in the South China Sea, and most of those who survived have been resettled in democratic nations such as Australia, Canada and the United States. Let me quote again from David Horowitz—writing in 1987 with another key 1960s figure of the New Left, Peter Collier. They wrote:

After America's defeat in Vietnam the New Left was presented with a balance sheet showing the consequences of its politics. New Left orthodoxy had scorned the idea that the war was at least partly about Soviet expansion, but soon after the American pullout, the Soviets were in Da Nang and Camh Ranh Bay and had secured the rights to exploit the resources of Indochina in unmistakably imperial style. Other things we had claimed were impossible were also now happening with dizzying velocity. Far from being liberated, South Vietnam was occupied by its former "ally" in the North. Large numbers of "indigenous" revolutionaries we had supported were in "political" re-education camps set up by Hanoi, or taking their chances on the open seas with hundreds of thousands of other Vietnamese fleeing the revolution in flimsy boats. In Cambodia two million peasants were dead, slaughtered by the Communist Khmer Rouge proteges of Hanoi and the beneficiaries of the New Lefts "solidarity". It was a daunting lesson: more people had been killed in three years of a Communist peace than in thirteen years of American war.

Senator Evans dismissed all this in his typical imperial, arrogant, ideological way. If one listened to him last week one would think that this never happened. One would think that it was the allies in Vietnam that were to blame for all the suffering of the Vietnamese people at that time. As I said earlier, he claimed specifically that Australia had contributed, to use his words, `very much to the economic environment of grinding poverty which has continued for so long.'

  As well as Australia, the grinding poverty, according to Senator Evans, is due to the Vietnamese government being denied access to finance through the international financial institutions, or `any form of assistance from the United States, Japan and other countries following the United States leadership.' That is another glimpse of the real Gareth Evans, the unreconstructed anti-American Evans of old, who tries desperately to cloak his ideological hang-ups behind a superficial mask of statesmanship. He said:

It may be some of that (-ie the lack of access to finance, and presumably, the grinding poverty—) was brought on Vietnam's own head by some of the policy decisions it took during that period—in particular the invasion of Cambodia . . .

`It may be,' he said; it certainly was. What an apologia from this minister! I wonder whether we will ever hear a recognition from Senator Evans, Senator Loosley and their ilk that the grinding poverty of the Vietnamese people, the hardships they have endured and that millions continue to endure, might be due to the facts that in the 19 years since South Vietnam was destroyed, not one free and fair election has been held in Vietnam, freedom of the press is unknown, churches are government-controlled or suppressed, and human rights are trampled underfoot, often brutally. I will not be holding my breath in expectation of hearing any of that from Senators Evans and Loosley.

  Do Senator Evans or Senator Loosley seriously believe that the Vietnamese people, 19 years after the communist victory, are better off than they would have been if the allies had been successful in assisting South Vietnam to resist communist domination? One could easily get the impression, listening to their contributions to this debate, that they do. I doubt whether many Vietnamese would agree with them.

  I am not for one moment suggesting that we should live in the past, that we should let the events of the past dictate our actions in the future. I believe strongly that it is in the interests of both the Australian and the Vietnamese peoples that there be growing economic and commercial relations between our two countries. But I believe also that Australia should do all in its power to press for the end of the continuing abuse of human rights in Vietnam. This abuse will act to limit the achievement of the potential of our relationship with Vietnam so long as it continues.

  Just as we should not live in the past, nor should we ignore or forget the past, or fail to recognise the reality of the present non-democratic and poverty stricken situation that still exists in Vietnam, where the government continues to violate fundamental human rights, after 19 years of communist rule in the South and for much longer in the North. If we seek to ignore the past, then we cannot learn from it, and we put at risk the future. The dangers are even greater if, in addition to attempting to ignore the past, we consciously distort it and attempt to re-write history, as Senator Evans and Senator Loosley have in this debate.

  In this context, Prime Minister Keating's decision during his recent visit to announce such a major increase in Australian aid to Vietnam raised many questions to which answers have not yet been supplied. There is much understandable concern within the Vietnamese-Australian community, and beyond, that this very large program has been announced without any valid justification, and without any apparent attempt to use it as a lever to achieve any improvement in the human rights situation in Vietnam. Indeed, if anything, there appears to have been an intensifying of human rights abuses of political prisoners, prisoners of conscience and religious leaders since then.

  This makes Senator Evans's advice to the Senate last week about the delegation to visit Vietnam in July even more significant. It is an important development, even if belated. I am surprised that Senator Evans chose this low key way to announce it. It is not like him to hide his light under a bushel. I wonder if it confirms the fears I have expressed earlier, as have others, about what the delegation might achieve, particularly on human rights issues. These fears are fully shared by the Vietnamese-Australian community. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a press release on this matter and on Australia's huge new aid package to Vietnam that was issued by the Vietnamese community in Australia on 6 May.

  Leave granted.

  The press release read as follows

THE VIETNAMESE COMMUNITY IN AUSTRALIA

PRESS RELEASE

The Vietnamese Community in Australia welcomes the timely announcement of the Australian Parliamentary Consultative Delegation to Vietnam by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Senator Gareth Evans on 5 May 1994.

It is high time that the Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (S.R.V.) faces the Australian Parliamentary Consultative Delegation to Vietnam to investigate on the gross violations of human rights of the S.R.V.

The Delegation is a strong, multi-party one, comprising three Hon. Members of Parliament, two academics and two prominent Vietnamese Australians, all having both the necessary status and expertise. However the Australian Delegation may have difficulties to carry out its mandate during its token and very brief visit to Vietnam for one week only commencing 7 July 1994.

The Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam continues to violate the most fundamental human rights and in particular the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Their gross violations of human rights has been well documented by Amnesty International, International Federation on Human Rights, Asia Watch, and the Paris-based Vietnam Committee on Human Rights.

The Vietnamese Community in Australia (V.C.A.) deplores the Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam's record of gross violations of human rights, and protests against their oppression of religions in Vietnam.

In October and December 1993 the Management Committee of V.C.A. made publicly available the document of 50 pages titled "The Socialist Republic of Vietnam—Violations of Human Rights" and sent this document to all Senators and Members of Parliament as well as the members of media.

For many decades the Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam is notoriously known for having surreptitiously set up several "courts" in different remote areas of the country to "legalise" the detention of the political prisoners and prisoners of conscience including religious leaders of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and its believers, and the leaders of the Catholic, Hoa Hao, and Cao Dai Churches in Vietnam.

These gaol sentences have demonstrated clearly some of the massive violations of human rights by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam since 1975, particularly concerning:

  (a) arbitrary arrest and indefinite detention without trial of many Buddhist leaders and believers of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and other religious leaders;

  (b)  the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

The Vietnamese Community in Australia calls upon the Government of the S.R.V. to:

1. Abolish the dictatorship of the current single political party system;

2. Immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience, and all religious leaders;

3. Introduce basic human rights to Vietnam, including freedom of assembly, religious worship, speech and the press;

4. Organise free, open and democratic elections under the United Nation's supervision;

5. Allow the Australian Parliamentary Consultative Delegation to Vietnam to visit, meet and interview many hundreds of political prisoners, prisoners of conscience, religious leaders, e.g. Professor Doan Viet Hoat, Dr Nguyen Dan Que, Venerable Thich Huyen Quang, Mr Ly Tong, Mr Nguyen Ho etc.,.

It is a mockery that in response to the generous economic aid package amounting to two hundred million dollars of taxpayers money provided to Vietnam by the Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating during his state visit to Vietnam in April 1994, the Communist Party of Vietnam and Government of the S.R.V. have decided to continue and intensify its oppressive policies towards the political prisoners, prisoners of conscience, religious leaders.

The Vietnamese Community in Australia believes that the Australian economic aid to the Government of Socialist Republic of Vietnam should be given only on the condition that the S.R.V. Government must stop all its violations of human rights, release all religious leaders, believers, and lay people of all religions, intellectuals, artists, writers and community leaders . . . holding different political points of view who have been detained for a long time without trial or given trials and sentences.

The Vietnamese Community in Australia requests that the Australian Government continues to:

—place human rights and democracy for the people of Vietnam at the foremost consideration throughout the bi-lateral relations between Australia and S.R.V.;

—give strong support to the Australian Parliamentary Consultative Delegation to Vietnam and extend the brief period of one week for the Delegation's visit commencing on 7 July 1994, that it may be able to carry out its mandate effectively.

—put pressure on the S.R.V. to stop its violations of human rights and implement the findings of the Australian Delegation.

On behalf of the Executive Committee

The Vietnamese Community in Australia

Vo Minh Cuong

President

6 May 1994


Senator SHORT —Senator Evans's explanation for the reasons for Prime Minister Keating's invitation to communist party chief Do Muoi to visit Australia at our taxpayers' expense was totally inadequate. I remind the Senate that my motion expresses concern that Mr Keating has extended the invitation. Indeed, I believe that the Prime Minister should re-examine his decision and cancel the invitation to Do Muoi.

  As I indicated last week, and do so again today, I accept the amendments to my motion suggested by Senator Chamarette as revised by her today. I also accept the amendment put forward by Senator Harradine this evening. Senator Chamarette's amendment deletes part (c)(i) of my motion and substitutes other words, and deletes part (d). I regret the deletion of part (d)—I think it was an important part of my original motion—but it is important to achieve a positive vote on the motion as a whole, and I hope and understand that my acceptance of Senator Chamarette's amendment will assist in this respect.

  I thank her for her constructive approach on this occasion. I also thank Senator Harradine for his cooperation and constructive suggestions as well. I also want to thank my coalition colleagues Senator Hill, Senator Kemp, Senator Sandy Macdonald and Senator McGauran for their significant contributions to what I believe has been an important debate. I hope my motion as amended will have the support of the Senate.

  Motion, as amended, agreed to.