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Monday, 21 September 1987
Page: 443

Mr TICKNER(10.36) —I would like to raise issues concerning human rights and the political situation in Fiji, but before doing so, I compliment the honourable member for Fadden (Mr Jull) on his continuing interest in tourism, and take the opportunity to remind him that he has highlighted two very important points that are fundamental to the political views of the Government side of the House. First, all public expenditure is not bad and the public sector has a very important role to play, not only in social welfare but in providing the necessary infrastructure on which the private sector depends to continue conducting its activities, make profits and create jobs. It is about time that we had an honest debate about public expenditure instead of the Opposition adopting this loony, new Right zealous approach that says that all public expenditure is necessarily bad. The second point that the honourable gentleman raised, perhaps inadvertently, is the necessity and desirability of public ownership and control of important national strategic resources like airports. I am sure that my colleagues in the House tonight will warmly welcome the point that the honourable member made by implication.

We are all aware, as a result of the coup in Fiji, such a short distance from Australia, how fragile principles of democracy are and how zealously all of us ought to fight to defend and promote human rights not just in Australia but throughout the world. Since the coup, Amnesty International has learnt of a wave of arrests and short term detention of the supporters of the deposed government and those believed to be critical of the coup. Many of those people appear to have been arrested for their non-violent political beliefs or activities, or for peacefully exercising their internationally recognised right of freedom of expression. Over 100 people were arrested between June and August, including deposed Cabinet Ministers, trade unionists, shopkeepers, journalists and the supporters of the `Back to Early May' movement, an organisation that advocates the restoration of the pre-coup political institutions in Fiji. Those arrests are continuing.

People detained are arrested by the police or members of the Royal Fiji military forces under the provisions of emergency legislation issued by the Governor-General immediately after the coup. They are held without charge for short periods ranging from 45 minutes to four days, and are then released. In several cases, they have not been allowed to contact family or friends during their detention and have been released on condition that they do not discuss their experience while in custody.

Amnesty International believes that many of those so detained in Fiji may be prisoners of conscience and is calling on the Governor-General and the commander of the royal Fiji military forces, Colonel Rabuka, to review current practices of arrest and detention and to ensure that the fundamental rights of all citizens are respected. I can give a couple of examples of the type of detentions that have occurred. Six executive members of the Fijian Trades Union Congress were arrested on 5 June at the office of the Air Pacific Staff Employees Association. The arrested men were taken to the central police station in Suva where they were questioned and held overnight and their lawyer was refused access to them. That is only one of many examples of detention affecting journalists, trade unionists and those advocating a change in a peaceful manner.

Amnesty International recognises that declaration of states of emergency and the issuance of emergency legislation may be justified under the conditions of political or economic crisis but may not be used to imprison individuals for the non-violent expression of their beliefs. Such is the state of the world that, wherever a coup like this does occur, immediately one of the first victims is basic human rights, including the right of the individual of freedom of expression. We all ought to take note of the lessons of that coup in Fiji.

Madam SPEAKER —For the information of the House, I inform honourable members that John Platten and Tony Lockett drew for the Brownlow Medal.