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Wednesday, 26 November 1986
Page: 2791

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE(4.10) —I rise to speak briefly on the report of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence headed `Australia and the Philippines: The situation in the Philippines and its implications for Australia'. I start my remarks by making some comments on and some references to the views proffered just last week by Senator Vallentine in her observations on the report and her very clear criticism of it. Frankly, having read just a few moments ago the Hansard record of her comments, and refreshed my memory on the report, I see no relationship between the two. Either Senator Vallentine had the wrong report or she had read it and judged it in a way that suited her prejudices. What she said was in no way a reflection of the substance of the report or its recommendations.

She said that the report was seen in terms of bland, naive East-West relations when, of course, it was not under any circumstances seen as such. The report was designed to be a reflection of historic events and facts, a record of current and contemporary circumstances and, in some limited and modest way, an attempted prognosis of the future. Of course, the report was inhibited to the extent that circumstances in the Philippines at that time were very fluid and changing by the day. As we were taking evidence, we had to call witnesses back to ask them whether they would reconsider their position because events had changed since they had previously given evidence. However, we saw our way through that and I believe that it is an excellent report. One thing I will say, with some trepidation, is that I thought that the quality of the evidence presented to the Committee would not have allowed us, if we had relied exclusively on it, to make the sophisticated, in-depth judgments on events in and the future of the Philippines that we wanted to make.

However, let me return to Senator Vallentine's claims. She talked about the Filipino people have been blatantly used in every imaginable way to serve the interests of the United States of America personnel who frequent the United States bases, as though that was something that warranted the bases being closed down and removed. I would have thought that, with the fertile imagination that Senator Vallentine has, she could have come up with something more substantial than that as an excuse for closing down the bases. If Senator Vallentine wants to look at the involvement of the Americans and the contribution that the Americans have made in the Philippines, she should remember that in 1983 an agreement was made between the Americans and the Filipinos for the United States to give $900m in aid, the majority in economic aid. Last year the United States committed itself to an additional $200m and this year to another $100m. While President Aquino was in America, the House of Representatives pledged itself to a further $200m of economic aid.

I am still waiting for a Press statement from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics about its latest package of economic aid to the Philippines. It seems to me that Senator Vallentine takes every opportunity she can, irrespective of the relevance of her statements to the subject before us, to criticise America. As best I am able to tell from examining her statements in the Parliament and her speeches, not once has she criticised the Soviet Union in any shape of form. It seems to be her favourite hobby to kick the Americans to death.

Senator Sanders —What is wrong with that? The Americans are involved in the Philippines.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —Senator Sanders is on that band-wagon, too.

Senator Sanders —Of course. I know what I am saying. I used to be an American.

Senator CRICHTON-BROWNE —It is to my everlasting disappointment that Senator Sanders is not still an American; he would not be interrupting me now, if he were.

The report is fair and objective in referring to the enormous deficiencies of the Marcos regime, the corruption of the Marcos regime and the incompetence of the Marcos regime. Senator Vallentine chose to criticise the present Government for its military assistance to the Philippines. As I recall it, that contribution in 1984-85 amounted to $1.35m, the lion's share of which was in terms of personnel training, primarily of a technical nature in providing technical skills. It did not provide arms or ammunition. As I understand it, the last defence co-operation arrangement provided on a commercial basis some Nomad aircraft and some logistical support in assisting in the training for the flying of those aircraft and the maintenance of them.

In terms of economic aid, as I recall it, last year Australia gave $14m. I do not have the figures with me, but I think it was $14m last year and it is due to rise to $25m this year-an increase of slightly less than 100 per cent. In terms of our foreign aid outlays, that is not a bad contribution. That is in addition to the bilateral aid that is also provided.

Senator Vallentine was very critical of the fact that the report makes reference to the effect that the new Philippines Government has and the previous Philippines Government had upon Australia and the Australian people. I remind Senator Vallentine, who obviously did not read even the first page of the report, let alone the last page, that the report is entitled `The situation in the Philippines and its implications for Australia'. That was the object of the report. Of course, it touched upon the future of the bases in the Philippines. Yes, the report did recommend that the bases be retained. Yes, of course, the report did recognise that that is a decision to be made exclusively by the Filipino people. In 1991 it will be the subject of a referendum and President Aquino has given her support to the maintenance and retention of the bases in the Philippines.

Finally, Senator Vallentine made some comments about the New Peoples' Army, suggesting that it was a friendly, misguided group which wandered around the countryside like Robin Hood, taking from the rich and giving to the poor. Let us understand the situation: There are over 23,000 members of the NPA under arms. Twenty per cent of the Filipino population comes into daily contact with members of the NPA. The numbers of contacts by the NPA are almost as high now as they were prior to Marcos's defeat. Nothing has changed, except that Mrs Aquino has learned that doing a deal with the communists is like doing a deal with a tiger: The reward is that you get eaten last. We have now seen some changes in her political perceptions and her views of how they ought to be dealt with.

I just remind honourable senators that in 1985 the kill rate was around 14 persons a day; that is in terms of contact with the NPA. The figure is just slightly less than that now. So, her best endeavours, her best efforts at persuasion, have done absolutely nothing to dissuade or discourage in any way the NPA from progressing in the direction that it has pursued for a number of years. Senator Vallentine argues that it is because of Marcos that the NPA is there. Marcos is no longer there, yet the NPA is still there, alive, well and growing. Of course, the presence of the NPA does not relate only to the economic situation. That allows the communists to grow, but it is not the reason they are there. The NPA started in the first place for purely political reasons. Mrs Aquino ascended to government. The fact that she has not been elected is, in my view, a defect. It is unfortunate that she did not go back to the people immediately. I believe that she would be much stronger in terms of her capacity to deal with the problems in the Philippines at present if she had done that.

Senator Vallentine also criticised the Government for its close support of Marcos. Both this Government and the previous Government were very measured and very careful in their contacts and relationships with the Philippines. Very few foreign Ministers have visited the Philippines in recent times. In the early days of his Government, Prime Minister Fraser did. Prime Minister Hawke made it quite clear some months ago that he had purposely not visited the Philippines because of the conduct of President Marcos.

I have some concern for the future of the Philippines because I suspect that President Aquino came to government with a level of expectation, both of a political and economic nature, which will not, in the short term, be fulfilled. If there is one danger for that society it is frustration because the hopes, aspirations, wishes and desires of the people in the Philippines shall not be fulfilled in the short term. It is economically impossible, and politically it is terribly difficult. We all hope that time is on her side and that, with the goodwill she has in the Philippines and the rest of the world, events in that country will take a turn for the better. I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.