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Wednesday, 25 September 2002
Page: 4831


Senator MASON (12:45 PM) —Just over a week ago the world remembered the 26th anniversary of the death of Mao Tse Tung, the man who founded, and for 27 years stood at the helm of, the People's Republic of China—


Senator Forshaw —How long was Franco in power?


Senator MASON —presiding in that time over the worst genocide in human history. This anniversary, I believe, provides a valuable opportunity for all of us, including Senator Forshaw, to recall and reflect upon the failure of our moral imagination in facing the greatest challenge of the last century— the challenge of totalitarianism. Totalitarianism was without doubt liberalism's greatest enemy, though as George Orwell reminds us, for much of the Left:

Such things as purges, secret police, summary executions, imprisonment without trial ... are too remote to be terrifying. They can swallow totalitarianism because they have no experience of anything other than liberalism.

This reflection is particularly relevant now as the Liberal Party is being constantly lectured by its opponents about human rights and morality in international politics.

When I reflect on the last 50 years, it saddens me to realise how weak and inadequate the reaction of our liberal democracy was to the genocide taking place in our own part of the world. It saddens me to realise that not indignation, not disgust, not a vocal outcry, but silence was the most common response to the tragedy that kept unfolding in China for decades. It saddens me to say that too few in my own party stood up to condemn tyranny and to speak in defence of its victims. But it saddens me even more to say that hardly anyone on the other side politics ever even raised their voice. If my own party's sins here were ones of omission, those of the Labor Party were of wilful blindness.

This wilful blindness was prevalent not of course because my colleagues on the other side of the chamber were communist sympathisers. It was prevalent not because my Labor colleagues championed and supported genocide overseas. No, I would never suggest that. I am sure that all my Labor Party colleagues would be utterly shocked and disgusted by the loss of life and the human tragedy and misery that invariably accompanied socialist experiments throughout the last century. No, my colleagues in the Labor Party did not support genocide in China. But they did nothing even when they knew or suspected it was happening. They turned a blind eye to the horrific reality because they did not want to believe it, because they chose not to believe, because it was too difficult—


Senator Forshaw —I raise a point of order, Mr Acting Deputy President. Under the provisions of standing order No. 193(3), I believe that Senator Mason is now making assertions of improper motives and reflections upon members of parliament.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESI-DENT —There is no point of order.


Senator MASON —They chose not to believe because it was too difficult and too inconvenient to believe the breadth and scale of the horror. What is even worse, many in the Labor Party—and more broadly speaking, on the Left—not only chose not to believe that genocide was going on in China but they also chose to ridicule and deride those who did. They might not have been communists—they were not—but they were anti anti-communists—and you would relate to this, Senator Bartlett. They thought the anti-communist case somewhat vulgar and unfashionable, not sophisticated enough; a bit too simplistic. They thought that to condemn communist tyrants overseas would give too much satisfaction to their political opponents in Australia. Their reflexive anti-Americanism—and we can see that happening at the moment—made them give the benefit of the doubt to all those who also hated the United States. Their alienation from their own Western society made them reluctant to find fault in anyone who might have been pursuing a different, socialist path to the future.

And now the silence of the Left continues. The Left has never come to terms with its moral failure last century. There was never any reflection, any acknowledgment, that by averting their eyes, they gave succour to murderers and failed to recognise the suffering of millions of victims. There are many estimates of the number of those who perished during Mao's reign. The most recent and most reliable estimate puts the number of dead at around 65 million people. Consolidation of power, the Great Leap Forward, collectivisation, the Cultural Revolution—all took their deadly toll. As we look at these figures it becomes apparent that Mao was the worst mass murderer of the 20th century and, indeed, of human history. In his genocidal mania he dwarfs Hitler and surpasses even Stalin. And of course in addition to those who died, there are countless millions of others who were persecuted, imprisoned or exiled. China's economy and social fabric were stretched and torn and are only now recovering from the ravages of Marxism.

Let me repeat: between 1 October 1949, when Mao and his troops entered Beijing, and 9 September 1976, when Mao died peacefully in his bed, the lives of 65 million Chinese people were sacrificed in pursuit of this communist utopia. Only a few weeks ago this chamber rang with passionate and heartfelt words as senators from both sides of the chamber remembered the horrific attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001. That appalling crime claimed the lives of about 6,000 innocent people. We condemned the perpetrators, as they deserve to be condemned. But think of this: over 6,000 men, women and children were either starved or murdered every day of every week of every month of every year for 27 years under Mao's reign, and there was barely a whimper.

Perhaps Stalin was right about one insight: the death of a thousand people is a tragedy; the death of a million is a statistic. There was no outcry from the Left, no condemnation of the appalling loss of life and not the slightest indication of moral disquiet. In fact, quite the contrary. When Mao died, Mr Whitlam, the then leader of the Labor opposition, stood up in this parliament and eulogised the man whom communist propaganda called `the Great Helmsman'. Mr Whitlam said that Mao's:

... courage, his sagacity, his gifts as a writer and interpreter of Chinese philosophy and civilisation, and his extraordinary stature as national leader have ensured that his influence will outlast his death ... No one who visited his country could be in any doubt of the veneration in which he was held by his people.

Remember that Mr Whitlam was singing the praises of a man who was responsible for more deaths than Hitler or Stalin. Mr Whitlam went on to say:

It says much for the changing attitudes of Australian politicians as it does for the greatness of Mao himself that we are paying tribute in this place to a man and thus to a nation and a people who until a short time ago were the object of widespread hostility and suspicion in this country ... This progression from hostility to recognition, from recognition to respect, and from respect to admiration has been slow, belated and welcome. I am gratified that my colleagues and my Party have been in the forefront of this movement.

Indeed, Mr Whitlam, but I wonder: are you still proud of those comments? How can you face the shadow of Mao's 65 million victims and say that you admire him?

It is no wonder many in the Labor Party and the Left generally hate it when we remind them of their record on this issue. It is no wonder all we ever hear now are feeble excuses as the Left embarks on their own long march of denial. Some of them may say, `But we didn't know!' I say back to them, `Because you chose to become the three monkeys of totalitarianism.' The Left of the ALP chose to be wilfully blind to the horror and tragedy because they genuinely believed that communist tyrants like Mao were building a better future and demonstrating in practice the superiority of Karl Marx over Adam Smith. `No enemies on the Left,' was their slogan. Oh, how I remember it. The Right of the ALP and, unfortunately, even some in my own party, chose to ignore what was going on because it was too inconvenient to rock the boat. It seems there were always other, more important things to do. But the evidence was there for all to see. Books by Barnett, White, Vogel, Portisch, Hamm, Labin and others were published in the West throughout the 1950s and 1960s and they provided the public with the true picture of life in Red China.

Mao's China was supposed to have been the next utopia; but it was not. Mao succeeded in creating not a utopia but a nightmare—a truly totalitarian state, where society turned upon itself and devoured its young. As Jung Chang wrote in her best-selling memoirs Wild Swans:

The greatest horror of the Cultural Revolution— the crushing repression which had driven hundreds of thousands of people to mental breakdown, suicide and death—was carried out by the population collectively. Almost everyone, including young children, had participated in brutal denunciation meetings. Many had lent a hand in beating the victims.

The line between state executioner and public spectator became blurred. There will always be those on the Left who will try to exculpate themselves by playing the moral equivalency card. They will say, `Yes, we are guilty, but your side was just as bad. After all, you supported dictators like Pinochet, Franco and Marcos.' I will say, `Yes, some on the Right did, but they thought people like Pinochet to be the lesser evil. And my side of politics certainly did not romanticise them while they were alive and certainly did not beatify them after they were dead.'

The Cold War was a long struggle. Democracy, human rights, the rule of law and free markets are only now making their slow but sure progress around the world. With the socialist alternative now clearly proven to be a monumental failure, the Left has moved on to other causes: deconstructing Western civilisation and the Enlightenment and creating a culture of complaint, victimhood and entitlement. They are always moving onto the next crusade, seeking salvation somewhere else. The Left, to recall the words once used to describe Sir Samuel Hoare:

... passes from experience to experience, like Boccaccio's virgin, without discernible effect upon [their] condition.

It is important to remember the past and, as we remember, to draw some lessons. The Labor Party and, more broadly, the Left always saw, and still see, themselves as the champions of human rights. Yet where were they when the worst abuses of human rights in the history of mankind were taking place in China? The Left and the Labor Party always try to occupy and monopolise the moral high ground, accusing my side of politics of unprincipled opportunism. Yet where were they, and what did they do, while 65 million Chinese men, women and children were murdered or starved to death? What have they done since then to acknowledge their silence and inaction?

These are the lessons that all of us in this parliament and in public life should always bear in mind. Let us hope that no challenge like that of Mao's China will arise to test our moral temper in the future. But let us also hope that, should it arise, we will at least know how to face it with courage, honesty and integrity. We must never again forget that it is our duty above all else to recognise the lives and deaths of those who are not always visible from afar, whose cause is not necessarily fashionable from where we stand and whose voices are often drowned out by excuses and rationalisation.