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Tuesday, 26 February 1985
Page: 182

Senator BOLKUS —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Has the Minister seen recent comments of the United States President on the situation in Nicaragua wherein Mr Reagan has announced his desire to 'remove the present structure of the Nicaraguan government'? Did the President also claim that the Government was 'not a government chosen by the people' and that it was 'totalitarian, brutal and cruel'? Is it a fact that independent observers to the 1984 Nicaraguan election have assessed that electoral process as being fair? Is it also a fact that independent commentators, including the International Red Cross and the Americas Watch Report, have assessed the Nicaraguan Government's performance in the human rights field as far more liberal and tolerant than that of neighbouring countries, the regimes of which have been supported by the Reagan Administration? Can the Minister say whether the Australian Government supports the President's assessment and the position of the United States Administration towards the Nicaraguan Government?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I have seen Press reports of President Reagan's remarks on Nicaragua made at a Press conference on 22 February. The remarks are consistent with the generally critical attitude of the United States Administration towards Nicaragua.

Australia's view is that Nicaragua has a right to choose its form of government without outside interference. In our assessment, the electoral procedures involved in the election held on 4 November last year were fair and free of significant irregularities. The results indicated considerable support for the Sandinistas, although the process would have been more broadly pluralistic if the Coordinadora opposition group had in fact participated. It is Australia's assessment that the human rights situation in Nicaragua is significantly better than that of some other Central American countries. Most importantly in this respect, there are no death squads there. Some aspects of the situation are, however, of concern. More generally speaking we would say this: The situation in Central America is complex. There remains an urgent need for economic and social reform and for an end to the serious tensions in the region. Australia has supported efforts to promote political solutions to these problems, including the Contadora process and the recently suspended Nicaragua-United States bilateral talks.