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Wednesday, 18 September 1974
Page: 1212

Senator STEELE HALL (South AustraliaLeader of the Liberal Movement) - The Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Senator Greenwood) is asking the Senate to recommend the dismissal of the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee) on 3 grounds which the motion moved by Senator Greenwood itemised. The second paragraph of his motion has been the subject of very many petitions and representations that have been made to the Parliament by citizens around Australia who have their ethnic roots in the Baltic countries. I am extremely surprised to find that the Opposition would bury the only real essence of this motion between 2 other paragraphs which do not belong in the motion at all. It would be quite impossible and unjust for the Senate, even though it is a formality of protest to put in the paragraphs which call for the dismissal of the Minister, to actually call for the Minister's dismissal on what has been presented to the Senate over some hours of discussion today on what is known about the Ermolenko affair. No one has proven anything or given any evidence to the Senate to substantiate any claim for refuge or asylum made by that person. I heard Senator Jessop say by way of interjection that Ermolenko sought asylum. Senator Carrick said that he sought refuge. But no one has been able to prove that these things were said. Therefore, no one has given a reason for his request to stay in Australia, except that he liked it. That is the only construction I can put on what the Opposition is putting up to the Senate.

Senator Jessop - Do you have any alternatives?

Senator STEELE HALL - I cannot prove anything, any more than Senator Jessop can prove anything. So Senator Jessop admits -

Senator Baume - Well, forget about it.

Senator STEELE HALL - I am quite happy to forget about it, but Senator Jessop is not. Senator Jessop, without the slightest proof, asks in the Senate that the Minister's handling of the Ermolenko affair be one reason for his dismissal from office.

Senator Rae - But is not the point the fact that the opportunity which we might all have had was denied us by his being spirited out of the country on the day before court proceedings were taken?

Senator STEELE HALL -No, it is not. It is the very furthering of the argument that Senator Rae uses now that damages the central core of this motion. The central core of this motion is the cause of the Baltic states because that is unarguable as an action.

Senator Rae - We all agree with you.

Senator STEELE HALL -If Opposition senators realise it, why do they damage it? It is a very ill-timed or ill-thought out strategic move to bury between 2 unsupportable propositions the very real cause of the recognition of Russian sovereignty over the Baltic states.

Senator Webster - You are only expressing an opinion, are you not?

Senator STEELE HALL -Of course I am expressing an opinion in the Senate. That is why the people elected me here. Senator Webster can express his opinion. But I am telling honourable senators that that is my view and it is the view held by a considerable number of other people on this subject. It is very disappointing to find, as inevitably will occur, that the debate has centred on other than the Baltic states question. If honourable senators were to go through Hansard and add up the amount of time that has been devoted to the various parts of this long debate since it commenced some time after 2.15 p.m. today, they would find that the Baltic states have been a minor part of the argument. I would like to join in voting to censure the Minister on his recommendation to his Government, which apparently was accepted, or to censure him for his part in making the decision and the responsibility he bears for the Government's recognition of the sovereignty of Soviet Russia over the Baltic states. For the Opposition to put 2 useless additional arguments in the motion puts senators who want to join in that protest in regard to the Baltic states in a very difficult position. Senator Greenwood has proven nothing. Every time he rises to speak in the Senate in relation to the Ermolenko affair, his credibility has gone down. It has gone down -

Senator Jessop - You are sitting on the fence.

Senator STEELE HALL - I do not want to dignify Senator Jessop 's argument in the Senate. But if he can prove to the people who elected him to the Senate and to the people who elected me here that I sit on fences, I say good luck to him. As I have said, the situation is very difficult for people who want to support the representations of the people in Australia who have their ethnic roots in the Baltic countries when those who have brought the motion before the Senate have buried that case amongst irrelevancies.

The Ermolenko discussion- it is nothing more than that- is an attempt to put words into the mouth of someone when we have no idea what he said. As I have said, no one has given any reason as to why he wanted to stay here in Australia, except that he liked it. I know other people who would like to stay in Australia and who cannot. There has to be a bigger reason than just that. As far as the Foreign Minister's handling of our alignments overseas are concerned, obviously that would be a matter of some political conflict. But the Senate cannot legitimately ask for his dismissal at this stage for his handling of that part of his responsibilities. There is nothing proven in that regard, with supporting arguments which would justify the Senate passing a motion on that basis. Certainly, paragraphs 1 and 3 are not supportable in the terms in which they are put to the Senate. What do those of us do who want to support only the essential middle ingredient of this motion? Are we to put ourselves in the very foolish position of asking for the dismissal of the Minister as a form of protest to be carried by the Senate by voting for all 3 paragraphs? If we vote that way, it would be not just an Opposition protest- I hope that the Opposition understands the importance of that- but the motion would be carried on the basis that the Opposition has proven its case in the Ermolenko affair and on the basis that we believe the Minister has harmed Australia's national interest to the very serious extent that he should vacate his office.

Those of us who would like to support the Opposition are therefore made to look fools on two out of the 3 propositions contained in the motion. Senator Greenwood may think that is funny but it is not very funny because I do not want to join with the very stupid strategic moves for which he has been responsible in the Senate. I would have thought that, following upon the publicity that has been given to apparent changes of heart, the honourable senator may have upgraded his strategy in presenting his moves to the Senate. But he has not and he has greatly damaged his case. Of course, he did not pay me the courtesy of informing me what his motion would be. I obtained knowledge of that from the Government. Therefore, he has not asked for cooperation. Certainly, he has not sought it now in the way in which he has framed his motion. However, I do join with the protest on the central theme.

Of course, the damage which the Government has done is not practical damage in the sense of having any effect on the sovereignty of the 3 Baltic states. But what it does is divide the Australian community and to make very uncomfortable a very important section of the Australian community that has come from those countries or, as I have said before, has its roots in those countries. It is quite inexcusable that the Government should have taken this action, surely knowing that it would cause great disturbance to tens of thousands of people in Australia who hold very dear the precepts and the heritage they have from that part of Europe. Why the Government stepped far ahead of other companion countries in making this recognition is something of a mystery to the Senate and something about which the Minister will not inform it.

Senator Georges - He cannot.

Senator STEELE HALL -He cannot or he will not. Certainly there has been no real reason given why we in Australia should be marked in the world community as stepping forward out of Une with our allies in this respect. I resent the distress it causes to the people of those origins living in Australia. I feel very deeply for them, as obviously do the Opposition senators in general, and I join in that protest. I trust that the organisation that those ethnic groups are entering into will be effective in demonstrating to the Government that it cannot lightly throw aside such firmly and deeply held views of the people who have done a very great amount in Australia to develop this country and to change us for the better. So I support the second part of the amendment.

However, if I vote for this motion I will make myself very foolish as a senator from South Australia in giving support to the first and third parts of the amendment. I would suggest that Senator Greenwood who moved this motion would serve his case a great deal better and would certainly serve the case of people who have origins in the Baltic countries much more emphatically in this debate and in its result if he sought the permission of the Senate to excise from this motion the first and third parts, to leave quite clearly before the Senate the essence of the argument which ought to be concentrated upon and which is in the minds of those people in Australia who are so disturbed about this matter.

Senator Greenwood - Do you support the Government's foreign policy by supporting the third part?

Senator STEELE HALL -Senator Greenwood was here when I spoke about that and I do not want to reiterate what I said. Certainly Senator Greenwood cannot separate the Foreign Minister from the rest of the Government and say that he ought to resign from the Foreign Affairs responsibility he bears any more than he can ask other Ministers to resign. Obviously honourable senators on this side of the House would like to displace all the Government Ministers, but that is the system in operation in any Westminster-type Parliament. But for heaven's sake let us concentrate on the issues and not damage the core of the matter. I ask Senator Greenwood in a spirit of co-operation to tighten the message that he wants to have this Senate deliver to the Government and thereby give evidence to the public and serve the cause of those who feel so deeply about it by excising the extraneous matter.

Senator GREENWOOD(Victoria)-I wish to make a personal explanation.

The PRESIDENT - Does the honourable senator claim to have been misrepresented?

Senator GREENWOOD -Yes. Senator SteeleHall in the course of his remarks- and he is entitled to his views- said that every time I rise on the Ermolenko affair to speak in this place my credibility diminishes. I only want -

Senator Georges - He is entitled to say that.

Senator GREENWOOD - He is perfectly entitled to his view. I want to say only that this is the first occasion on which I have addressed myself to the Senate- apart from the questions I have asked- on the Ermolenko affair.

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