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Thursday, 15 August 1974
Page: 959

Senator WITHERS -Can the Minister for Foreign Affairs inform the Senate of the present situation concerning the violinist Mr Georgi Ermolenko? Has he any further information to provide to the Senate since this matter was debated in the Senate on Tuesday night?

Senator WILLESEE (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) (Minister for Foreign Affairs) - We have reached the following position in relation to Mr Ermolenko. The following people have seen Mr Ermolenko and have discussed his wishes with him. I emphasise that all of these people saw Mr Ermolenko while no Russians, either Embassy officials or fellow musicians, were present: Mr Michael Edgley, a nationally known businessman and entrepreneur, Mr Rob Cowles, the Western Australian secretary of the Transport Workers Union and Mr Harry Bluck secretary of the Western Australian branch of the Musicians Union. All saw Mr Ermolenko on Tuesday. Yesterday, the Honourable John Tonkin MLA saw Mr Ermolenko. Mr Tonkin expressed himself as quite satisfied that Mr Ermolenko genuinely wanted to return home to Russia. I may say that I asked Mr Tonkin whether he would go to see Mr Ermolenko because I wanted a man who I believe, irrespective of politics, is completely accepted politically by the Western Australian people, to see Mr Ermolenko. I have known Mr Tonkin for the whole of my adult life. He is a man who I know is incapable of telling a lie or of being dishonest. Mr Harding, the organiser of the Federated Clerks Union, said that he was not satisfied that Mr Ermolenko was speaking entirely without duress even though there were no other Russians present. In this connection I am obliged to point out that Mr Harding is a member of the Australian Democratic Labor Party and his imperviousness to evidence may not be unconnected with that fact. Mr Coleman, the secretary of the Trades and Labour Council, has also seen Mr Ermolenko and is quite satisfied about the genuineness of his desire to return to the Soviet Union. I talked to Mr Coleman about that.

As a further demonstration of Mr Ermolenko 's desire to be returned to the Soviet Union, he subjected himself to a 25-minute television interview in which he was thoroughly quizzed on his wish to return to the Soviet Union. No Russians were present during this interview and Mr Ermolenko at all times maintained that he wished to return to the Soviet Union as soon as possible. I am obliged to say that I have nothing but complete contempt for the self-appointed mind readers, spiritual guides and guardians who claim in the face of all this evidence that they alone can determine what Mr Ermolenko wants. I also condemn the publicity seekers and political grandstander. who have made this unfortunate incident the occasion for detaining a young man in Australia against his will for the sake of what they see as the making of cheap political capital and the opportunity to embarrass the Russian and Australian Governments, both of which they would like to see fall.

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