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Monday, 11 November 1985
Page: 1922


Senator TATE(8.21) —I see this debate as an opportunity to raise the question of whether Australian taxpayers should be required to contribute to the Consolidated Revenue Fund and then see the Government appropriate money from that Fund for the purpose of an overseas government suppressing political dissidents and in a very brutal way dealing with its poor peasants in the countryside.


Senator Sheil —Oh, the Russian Government.


Senator TATE —The honourable senator is trying to divert me. I will not be diverted from what I think is a very important matter. We are not sending arms to Russia; we are not involved in a defence co-operation agreement with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. I hope we never will be because I have condemned, as strongly as members of the other side of the chamber, the Russian invasion of Afghanistan, for example, which is a brutal suppression of the rights of the people, mainly Moslems, who live in that country and who want to determine their own political future.

I am speaking of the Philippine people, who also want to determine their political future free of the corruption which is endemic in that country. In recent weeks, even in the United States of America this has led to spokesmen appearing before Senate committees on behalf of the Administration pointing publicly to the almost inevitable collapse of President Marcos's regime, which is riddled with corruption and cronyism, and dependent on the activities of military and paramilitary groups which, as I have said, have carried out brutal retributions and terrorist acts against their own people. That is the question I am raising. The question of suppression by the USSR of the rights of political dissidents in that country is one for another occasion but it is one which I would be quite happy to join with honourable senators on the other side of the chamber in condemning, as did a committee of this Parliament a couple of years ago in its report on human rights violations in the USSR. But let us not be diverted.

The Australian taxpayer is contributing a sum of money-I will come to that in a moment-which is not large in dollar terms but is important symbolically. The broad range of Australians, ordinary people like me who had not had much cause to think about the Philippines, apart from memories that were handed on through the family because of our association with the war in the Pacific and the great efforts of the United States and other allies in ridding that area of the Pacific from the Japanese invaders, were given perhaps their first insight of this. However, it was the trial of Father Brian Gore that probably helped to focus the attention of Australians on the way in which the military is used by elements within that regime to force its corrupt and dictatorial method of government on ordinary and poor peasants. Once those peasants start to organise and exhibit some sort of political or industrial consciousness and try to take on the power of the sugar barons or the coconut barons, the military is used to suppress them. Unfortunately, the judiciary does not show the independence which it ought, and the judges are obviously cowed and fearful not only for their livelihoods but even for their lives should they go against the tremendous power of the cronies who have the great monopolies in what used to be the staple exports of that unhappy land.


Senator Peter Baume —You could not say that about the committee of inquiry into the Aquino assassination, could you? They showed some courage, did they not?


Senator TATE —Elements of them did. I think all committees looking into matters of high political sensitivity have their uneven performances. The fact is that, as we commenced the Budget session, I felt it right to raise the question again with the Government because with the departure of Father Brian Gore from the Philippines I think there was perhaps a lessening of interest in the activities there. One was always conscious that once the world media was removed from surveillance, by journalists and particularly television cameras, then retribution and revenge would be taken. Indeed, we have seen how regimes understand the power of the international media. Therefore we have the present embargo on journalists, particularly electronic media journalists in South Africa, for example, reporting to the world what is going on there. So when the media were withdrawn from the Philippines, and particularly from Negros, one might have expected retribution to be wreaked on the people who supported Brian Gore. In fact, that is exactly what happened.

On Thursday 27 June, during our winter recess, a Christian leader and his four sons were massacred by unidentified armed men, believed to be elements of the seventh infantry battalion, in Father Brian Gore's old parish in Negros. This was a leader of the Christian community on that island. The five were reported picked up by soldiers at their house and were taken to an unknown destination. The victims were found by local residents the next day, 27 June, at the river near Camingawan. All the victims' hands were tied behing their backs and three of them were stripped naked. The wife and mother of the family, who lost a husband and four sons, described how armed men entered the house by breaking a door and how they terrorised the whole family. She said that some of the soldiers' faces were covered by black cloth and they were wearing fatigue uniform with combat boots. She described the brutality that preceded their abduction. Of course, they were found in the river the next day.

That is not an isolated instance; that is but one example of the terrorising of the local population which is undertaken by the military and paramilitary forces in the Philippines. I therefore think it is legitimate to raise the question whether Australian taxpayers might be contributing to that suppression by the military aid that we give to the Philippines. I have said that that aid is not large in money terms. In fact it comes to $1.5m a year. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a description of the current and planned activities for 1985-86 under that defence co-operation agreement.

Leave granted.

The document read as follows-

Current and planned activities, 1985-86

Expenditure

1984-85

Actual

($m)

1985-86

Estimate

($m)

Variation

($m)

Philippines

Projects

Nomad Maintenance Assistance with the development of maintenance and supply systems for Nomad aircraft through the attachment of a civilian engineer to the Philippines Air Force at Cebu and the completion of the overhaul of six Nomad engines in Australia....

0.658

0.428

-0.230

Mobile Medical Facility. Provision of in-country consultancy assistance and materiel including equipment and vehicles to establish a mobile field medical facility...

-

0.413

+0.413

Other Project. The provision of vehicle workshop and miscellaneous equipment, as well as costs of annual program of planning visits...

0.018

0.020

+0.002

Sub-total Projects...

0.676

0.861

+0.185

Training and Study Visits

Training in Australia for some 55 Filipino personnel including joint and single service staff college; Navy executive officer, underwater medicine and technical/trade training; Army survey, military engineer instructor and officer and NCO corps training; Air Force air traffic controller, flying instructor and C130 technical training. Visits to Australia by some 10 officers to attend the 1985 Annual DCP Regional Seminar, the 1985 Army Health Services Exercise and an explosive Safety Seminar...

0.680

0.632

-0.048

Total Philippines...

1.356

1.493

+0.137


Senator TATE —I thank the Senate. That incorporation means that I do not have to take quite so long to describe the elements of that aid. In the main, it comprises a Nomad aircraft maintenance program, a mobile medical facility, the provision of a vehicle workshop, and miscellaneous equipment. As will be appreciated, these are fairly neutral in some senses. They are not, for example, the sending of ammunition, rifles or particular weapons. But of course I do not underestimate their use in some military situations. The most interesting aspect, I think, of the information that was revealed in the Senate Estimates Committee hearing on this matter was the fact that the larger part of our contribution of $1.5m, in fact almost $640,000, is spent on the training in Australia this year of some 55 Filipino servicemen-or Filipino armed services personnel, I should say, in case there are some women amongst them. It is the training within Australia of these 55 service personnel which I think raises important questions that need some answers, because we do not want to wake up one morning and switch on AM and hear that a military commander who undertook some of his training in Australia has in fact been guilty of some terrible massacre against the people in his military district somewhere in the Philippines. I fear that that is what might happen. I asked in the Estimates Committee whether we took any steps to put under scrutiny the use to which our military aid was put, or the activities in which those military personnel who were trained in Australia engaged. I had preceded this by asking a question in the Senate of Senator Gareth Evans, representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. On 23 August-the earliest opportunity in the Budget session-I asked:

Has the Government noted reports that the Philippines military was involved in the massacre of a parish leader and his four sons in Father Brian Gore's former parish in Negros? . . . What assurance can the Minister give that Australian taxpayers are not aiding and abetting cruel and deadly repression by the military arm of the corrupt Marcos regime?

Senator Evans, having acknowledged the reports of which I spoke and have detailed for the Senate, said:

The broad objective of our participation in defence co-operation programs with regional countries is to assist them to develop capabilities, to counter external threats--

I interpolate and emphasise `external threats'--

and to deter the emergence of such threats.

He went on to say:

Obviously, this Australian Government could not condone and would not abet in any way activities of proposals for activity under the defence co-operation program which threatened human rights.

Yet we know that the military in the Philippines has been perverted and suborned to be used as a means of repression, against not only the communist rebels and insurgents but also ordinary Filipinos who are trying to express some sort of political or in many cases simple industrial union-type activity which is not to the liking of those who control that country. So when it came to the Estimates Committee I asked how Australia goes about ensuring that our military aid does not aid and abet this vicious repression against political dissidents which is in fact so well known to us. On 12 September 1985 I put this question to Mr Nockels of the Department of Defence. With all due respect to Mr Nockels, it was like getting blood out of a stone. For example, I asked whether Nomad aircraft could be used in operations directed at the suppression of rebel activity or some other domestic political military operation which the Government felt a need to suppress. Mr Nockels answered:

That is always a possibility.

There was a little concession. I went on to say:

I am asking, then, whether our military attaches really ensure that, for example, Australian Nomad aircraft are not used in such operations . . . how do they do so?

Mr Nockels went on to talk about Nomad aircraft in Indonesia, which was not extremely helpful. I asked:

What about the Philippines aircraft?

He said:

The Philippines purchased those aircraft; they were not given by us.

The inference I was supposed to draw was that because they had purchased them we had lost all control over or knowledge of the way in which they were disposed of and utilised by the military in the Philippines. Luckily, I had read the estimates, so I said:

Yes, but as I understand it, your point was that through maintenance contracts we keep their use under some sort of scrutiny and therefore the military attaches would be aware if they were used in the suppression of rebel activity or in operations mounted against the NPA.

I noted that about half a million dollars had been set aside for the maintenance of these aircraft in the Philippines. Mr Nockels then acknowledged that that was correct and said that we had personnel on the ground involved in supporting and assisting the development of a maintenance program for those aircraft. He said:

That quite obviously gives us an indication of the use of those aircraft-where they are going and what they are doing.

I asked whether they were based with the Philippines Air Force at Cebu, and he said that that was correct. I then asked:

Have they been used in operations against either Muslim dissidents or the NPA?

Mr Nockels replied:

As previously noted to this Committee, to the best of our knowledge the aircraft are used in a military support role, in the movement of personnel and senior officers.

Once again he was not getting to the point, so I asked:

Are they used as a transport of convenience for senior personnel on ordinary, routine inter-island visits throughout the Philippines or are they used in mounting operations-I do not know the terminology-of a combat character?

Mr Nockels answered:

They are used to move servicemen and personnel. I cannot comment on the specific task which those personnel would be directed towards at their destination.

I then said:

I appreciate that you may not be able to comment, but are the Australian military attaches, in ensuring that the Government policy of not aiding and abetting the suppression of internal domestic dissidents, able to report to the Government about specific tasks undertaken?

To this Mr Nockels replied `Yes'. I said: `And do they?' and Mr Nockels said `Yes'. My point is this: If it is the case that Australian military attaches in the Philippines, as Mr Nockels has said before the Senate Estimates Committee, are able to and, in fact, make reports to the Australian Government, in order to ensure that the Australian Government's policy of not aiding and abetting the suppression of internal domestic dissidents, I believe we should take advantage of the fact that the Parliament has given a reference to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence on this general question and have the military attaches appear before that Committee and give evidence as to the actual use of Australian military aid in the Philippines as well as the personnel trained here, which of course is a much more difficult task. I asked Mr Nockels a little later, and the Estimates Committee transcript stated:


Senator TATE —Do Australian military attaches keep track of these people when they return to the Philippines?

Mr Nockels-It is obviously very difficult to follow every serviceman trained.


Senator TATE —I realise that. So the answer is no?

Mr Nockels-That is correct.

So the personnel-55 of whom we are training in Australia this year in a range of activities, and hundreds whom we have trained over recent years-go back to the Philippines and could be engaged in any type of military operation at the direction of the relevant military commander. As we know, those military commanders are so often in cahoots with and aiding and abetting the corrupt politicians who are in charge of the Philippines at present. I hope that the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence will take the opportunity to find out from our military attaches precisely what is going on so far as we can be told. If we cannot be told in detail and if we cannot be given the assurances that our military aid and the personnel we train here keep within the parameters and the criteria set by the Australian Government-which, I recall to the Senate, is that such military aid and training of personnel should be directed to meeting an external threat and not at suppressing internal dissidents-I believe the case for ceasing all military aid to the Philippines is even stronger than is presently being mounted by many people, individually and in groups and voluntary organisations throughout the community, who have made this plea for so many years. For the interest of members of the public I read into the record the terms of reference of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence:

The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence has requested a Sub-Committee:

1. To investigate and report upon the situation in the Philippines and its implications for Australia with particular reference to:

2. the importance of the Philippines to regional stability and Australian interests;

3. the current political and economic situation in the Philippines and likely future developments;

4. the state of Philippine-Australian relations and appropriate Australian policies towards the Philippines.

That Sub-Committee will be chaired by Mr Gordon Bilney, of the Australian Labor Party, from South Australia. I believe it is a very important inquiry and I certainly urge those many individuals, community groups and various organisations, who have shown a tremendous interest in the whole question of Australian-Philippine relations, to make submissions in writing and, if possible; to seek to appear before the Committee in order to acquaint its members, who cover a very wide spectrum of political views in Australia-some dozen of them-with the feeling of those concerned Australians who have been following events in the Philippines.

For those of us who have followed events in the Philippines-this is no more than an indication, hopefully drawing on what is already known to many honourable senators-it is interesting to note that only a fortnight ago the United States Administration, in evidence before its relevant Senate committee, indicated that the Philippines is headed towards civil war on a massive scale within three years unless very substantial and real reform is undertaken by the Government of President Marcos. That seems to be a hope rather than a real possibility. This assessment was not made by some minor official; it was made by Mr Paul Wolfowitz, an Assistant Secretary of State, and Mr Richard Armitage, an Assistant Secretary of Defence, both of whom have been involved for many years in Philippine affairs. They gave, as I say, the most dire estimates yet made by the United States of America Government of the situation in the Philippines. One newspaper stated:

Mr Wolfowitz said Mr Marcos's response to American pressure had been ``inadequate and disappointing'', adding that ``each month that is wasted or used badly'' allows the insurgents to build momentum.

He said that the insurgents' New People's Army, estimated by Pentagon officials as having 14,500 soldiers and many more active supporters, did not have the strength to overthrow the Government, but that the situation could reach a military stalemate in three to five years, resulting in ``a civil war on a massive scale''.

The question that I really put to the Senate and to the Government is whether we really want to be aiding and abetting a situation developing in the Philippines where, if a civil war erupts in the next three to four years, Australian military aid and Australian trained Philippine service personnel may be involved in what would be a very terrible, vicious and brutal suppression of people who are, as I say, attempting to exercise some political and quite often industrial self-determination.

It is in that situation that I believe it is proper on the occasion of the consideration of appropriations to note this appropriation by this Government of moneys which all Australian taxpayers have forwarded to the Federal Treasury. I believe the earmarking of money for this particular purpose must have a very large question mark put against it. I certainly hope that the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, having heard what am sure will be a very widespread expression of concern from individuals and community groups about the military aid and defence co-operation agreement that we presently have with the Philippines, will make a recommendation which will enable the Government, with full parliamentary support, to withdraw from that particular form of military aid and to use the moneys thereby liberated for more humanitarian causes within that unhappy country.