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Thursday, 18 April 1985
Page: 1400


Mr BILNEY(3.24) —It is a great pleasure for me to rise in support of the statement made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden). There are two reasons for that. The first is a political reason, and that is to note the element of bipartisanship that is already evident in this debate on the Minister's statement. I believe it is to the eternal credit of the Fraser Government that it supported the policies of the Whitlam Government towards South Africa, and indeed-as the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) has pointed out-developed those policies further in respect of sporting contacts. The second reason why I support the statement is a personal one. In 1972, when the Whitlam Government came to office, I happened to be the Australian representative on the Special Political Committee at the United Nations General Assembly. On that occasion, as many honourable members here will recall, there was a marked change in Australian policy from that which had been followed by the McMahon Government and its conservative predecessors on the question of apartheid in South Africa. So much was that so that I was able in the space of two days, between 2 December and 4 December, to register a change in the Australian Government's voting position before the United Nations on a number of questions relating to apartheid. So it is a matter of great personal pleasure to me that the policies the Whitlam Government adopted have remained the position of successive Australian governments since that time.

The statement by the Minister for Foreign Affairs is a timely one in view of recent developments in South Africa and in the international community, and I would like to refer to several of those developments now. The first has already been mentioned by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, namely, the tragic massacre at Uitenhage in which 19 people died. That massacre took place on the twenty-fifth anniversary of perhaps the most infamous event in the history of apartheid, namely, the Sharpeville massacre. The second event, to which reference has been made in Question Time earlier today, was the decision of the New Zealand Rugby Football Union to send an All Blacks rugby team to tour South Africa. I think all members of this Parliament would hope to see that decision reversed. In my view, it cannot lead to anything but bloodshed and violence. It is very much out of step with other Commonwealth countries which are signatories to the Gleneagles Agreement and is very much out of step with the stance taken by other Western members of the United Nations on the question of sporting contacts with South Africa. One can only hope, as has been mentioned, that Australian cricketers will not lend their support to the pernicious regime in South Africa by agreeing to undertake a tour, whether for money or for any other reason.

The third development is the recent constitutional changes in South Africa, which the South African Government has gone to great lengths to present as a major reform. The Australian Government does not take that position. Indeed, we have explicitly rejected those arrangements as being a sham. They give to the black majority of South Africa no share of power at the national level. They continue to consign the black majority to the economically and demographically unviable homelands, as they are called. In short, they are a facade which is designed simply to deflect pressures for meaningful reform in South Africa.

A couple of other developments may be regarded by some as being more encouraging. One of those is the development since 1979 of a genuine freedom on the part of black workers to organise in South Africa. Under the provisions of the South African Labour Relations Act non-white trade unionism has come into existence and is growing strongly. It is also true that the rudiments at least of an industrial relations system which would be comprehensible outside South Africa have been brought into being. Having said that, it is the case that major restrictions still exist on the freedom of black workers to organise in South Africa, not least those which are imposed by the pass laws and the residence laws. It is not much help being able to organise if a person is not allowed to live in the place where he works, where his job mobility is affected, where his education has to be conducted in a segregated fashion, where workers compensation arrangements are markedly different between the black and the white communities, and where there are other restrictions which affect every aspect of daily life.

The final development I refer to is the intended repeal of the Mixed Marriages Act and of section 16 of the Immorality Act, which most honourable members here will know forbids either marriages or sexual contact between the races. It has been argued that this could be a step in the right direction and possibly a start-in what is obviously a very important field-towards undermining the whole structure of apartheid. But is is probably nearer the mark to take the view that the Melbourne Age does today. I will quote from the editorial in today's Melbourne Age:

The tragedy of South Africa's announced reform of its sex laws is that, like color, it may only be skin-deep: The hard rock of apartheid at present remains untouched.

One would like to believe that this was a step on the road to genuine reform. But as an article by James Smith today headed 'Sex law change: progress or ruse?', points out, if mixed couples are allowed to marry how do they get around the existing structure of apartheid, if under the residence laws, one person has to live in one part of the country and another has to live in another part of the country, if their education and amenities have to be separate, if they cannot go together to a film, to the theatre, to the beach, or travel on a train together? These so-called reforms seem to me to be not so much the harbingers of further change as a ruse designed to distract attention from the structure of apartheid.

These and other developments leave virtually untouched the basic and all-pervading structure of the system of racial discrimination called apartheid. They leave a situation in which South Africa remains the only country which explicitly enshrines racism in its constitutional provisions and in its structure of government. As the recent tragic events that I have referred to demonstrate, apartheid is a root cause of violence and confrontation in that country, and more widely than just in South Africa. Until that cause of tension and distrust is removed, there will never be a prospect for real peace in that region of the world. In general, the actions of that Government in recent times have merely served to institutionalise the structure more firmly.

The system of apartheid is quite rightly abhorred by the Australian Government and, perhaps more to the point, by the Australian community as a whole. I remind the House that our Australian community is built, socially, legally and in all other respects, on the acceptance of cultural and ethnic diversity and on the practical Christian principle that we are all equal, regardless of the colour of our skin, the language we speak or the religious beliefs we may profess. The doctrine of apartheid is similarly abhorred by the international community since it involves systematic discrimination at every level. It affronts the internationally accepted standards of human rights which are enshrined in such instruments as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Together with the Minister, I believe that the maintenance of the system of white supremacy in South Africa is leading inexorably, and it now appears tragically quickly, to widespread violence, destruction of life and to a major threat to peace in southern Africa and, possibly, more widely.

Consistent with that stance, Australia has taken a number of anti-apartheid measures, which have commanded the support of all parties in this Parliament, designed to bring pressure on South Africa to bring about fundamental changes in the system of apartheid. They include the matter of sporting boycotts, to which reference has already been made. They also include tightened restrictions by this Government on visits by apologists for apartheid or by South African office holders. They include, naturally, the prohibition of sales of arms to South Africa and-again something which has taken place since this Government came to power-the encouragement of visits to Australia by prominent opponents of apartheid. I am thinking here of Bishop Tutu, the Nobel Peace Prize winner who was in Australia recently, and Dr Allan Boesak. They also include another recent development, a scholarship program for disadvantaged black South Africans, and the granting of permission by this Government for information offices of the African National Congress and the South West African People's Organisation to be opened in Australia. Thus, the measures which have been announced today come on top of and indeed reinforce a number of other measures which have been taken to put pressure on the regime in South Africa.

Reference has been made to our willingness to support economic sanctions if those are approved by the United Nations Security Council. In referring to the remarks made by the Leader of the Opposition, I think he gave insufficient attention to the fact that we would engage in those sanctions along with the other major trading partners of South Africa. Perhaps he is unaware of the very great pressure within the United States Congress for more stringent sanctions to be imposed on South Africa than has been the case in the past. The United States anti-apartheid Act of 1985, which has been sponsored by Senator Kennedy and a number of other prominent figures, embodies a much stricter approach to South African sanctions. While it may not necessarily pass the United States Congress, it certainly is indicative of a growing consciousness in the United States that the present measures may well not be enough. Indeed, some quite thoroughgoing disinvestment measures have already been taken in the United States. For example, in a number of States, it is prohibited to invest pension funds in South Africa. A number of United States trade unions have taken the same position. It seems likely that this is bringing about considerable pressure for reform in South Africa. If the Opposition at present is not able to lend its support to possible measures in the United Nations, that is a retrograde step if such sanctions were likely to bring about change in the system of apartheid.

It is against this background that Australia has decided to introduce a voluntary code of conduct, the provisions of which have been spelt out by the Minister, to cover the conduct of Australian companies operating in South Africa. I make the point that the purpose of this code of conduct is to ensure that the Australian companies operating in South Africa extend to their non-white employees terms and conditions which are no less favourable than those extended to white employees in South Africa. By and large, it represents a recognition that, in the particular circumstances applying in South Africa, Australian companies which operate there have social as well as commercial responsibilities and that in their day to day operations they can help to alleviate the deprivation and hardship suffered by non-white workers and their families as a result of the iniquitous system of restrictive laws and practices embodied in apartheid. It is also important to note that Australian companies are not being asked to do anything that they do not carry out in their day to day operations within Australia. They are not being asked to breach South African laws or to do anything that they would not do here.

I am running short of time, but I wish to make one last mention of the bodies with which it is intended to consult in bringing this about, namely, the Australian commercial bodies such as the Confederation of Australian Industry and the Australian Chamber of Commerce, the Campaign Against Racial Exploitation, church organisations and the Australian Council of Trade Unions. CARE in particular has been active to ensure that practices which we all would like to see followed are brought to attention and I commend its efforts.