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Thursday, 4 May 1989
Page: 1869

Senator SCHACHT(11.14) —Jean-Marie Tjibaou, the father of Kanak independence, leader of the Kanak Socialist National Liberation Front (FLNKS) was assassinated this evening in New Caledonia.This is a tragedy of extraordinary proportions for the Kanak people and the future of peace and stability in New Caledonia. As I said, from the early 1970s Jean-Marie Tjibaou was the founder and leader of the Kanak demands for independence. He was an outstanding figure. I had the good fortune to meet him on at least two occasions. I met him only a week ago on Monday in New Caledonia when I was the leader of a parliamentary delegation from Australia, of which Senator Hill was also a member. In more than an hour's discussion, he again emphasised to me that he was a man who could be considered in any country of the world an outstanding political leader.

I remember a particular point of our meeting. I asked a question about some particular matter of the Matignon Accord. That is the Accord signed by the French Government, the FLNKS and the Rally for Caledonia in the Republic (RPCR). The RPCR is associated with the French settlers in New Caledonia. Those three groups signed the accord for a 10-year program leading to an act of self-determination in 1988. When I asked the question about some aspect of the Matignon Accord, Jean-Marie Tjibaou went to his briefcase, pulled out the document and described it as `the Bible'. He was obviously proud of his very significant association with and involvement in bringing about the Accord. The information that has come through from New Caledonia this evening is still sketchy. It may be very unfortunate that he was assassinated by militants in the FLNKS who disagreed with the signing of the Matignon Accord. The very same accord that he called `the Bible' may well have been the reason that some mad men or women went about his assassination.

Jean-Marie Tjibaou met many people in Australia and came to Australia on a number of occasions. All those who met him were impressed by his sincerity, intelligence, warmth and humanity. I first met him in 1983 and at that stage also met Eloi Machoro, another FLNKS leader who was shot dead in 1986. For those of us who have supported Kanak independence, it becomes a sorry tale to realise that the people we meet, feel warm towards and support, pay with their lives for the fact that they want to support independence for their country.

The Matignon Accord was an historic breakthrough in the history of New Caledonia in that it provided a peaceful way to resolve the matters in dispute between the Kanaks and the French settlers, called caldoches, and the French Government. When we were there only last week, we were all impressed by the fact that the country seemed peaceful and tranquil and that although there were still differences of opinion between the FLNKS and the RPCR, by comparison with what was occurring only a matter of a year or so ago we had great optimism that the process would lead to a successful conclusion. I hoped it would lead to New Caledonia being independent.

Since I have had an interest in foreign affairs matters, I have always been irked by the fact that it is often the so-called good guys who get killed or assassinated. Those who have worked for independence, democracy, liberty, and human rights always seem to be the first to suffer the ultimate consequence of violence, particularly those who have fought for independence for their country. We all know the story of Mahatma Gandhi, the leader for Indian independence, assassinated by a fanatic just as India received independence. We all know the story of Steve Biko, a leading South African student who argued for the end of apartheid and human rights and full democracy for all the people of South Africa. He died in South African police custody.

I also know of the case, which is not well known in Australia-I certainly was not aware of it until my visit to Burma in February this year-of General Aung Saan, the founder of Burmese independence, who was assassinated just as Burma gained independence.

We have the dreadful tragedy of Jean-Marie Tjibaou, who was assassinated this evening as New Caledonia was moving forward with great hope for the future. I should also mention that a message has just come through that his deputy, Yeweine Yeweine, has also died as a result of the attack tonight. Someone else was wounded, but the two main leaders of the FLNKS were killed on the island of Ouvea while attending ceremonies in memory of those who died 12 months ago tomorrow on that island during disturbances.

In the report that has come in tonight concerning Tjibaou's assassination, it is said that, during the ceremony, Jean-Marie Tjibaou paid tribute not only to dead Kanaks but also to the others who died-obviously the French gendarmes. One can again see the statesmanship of Jean-Marie Tjibaou in that he was attempting to show a reconciliation between the various groups in New Caledonia by making those remarks. My only hope is that those remarks were not further encouragement to the fanatics who killed him as he was attempting a reconciliation by mourning loss of life.

There is no doubt that tomorrow not only New Caledonia but much of the South Pacific will be in mourning because one of its most significant political leaders is dead. I believe that the French Government will be extraordinarily distressed by Tjibaou's assassination because France recognised his extraordinary qualities to which Premier Rocard paid tribute during the process of the Matignon Accord. I trust that, when more information comes through, the Australian Parliament will pay proper tribute to the work done by Jean-Marie Tjibaou and Yeweine Yeweine.

The point should be made that a country close to Australia has had political assassinations. This further emphasises the point that Australia is in a region-the South Pacific-that can no longer be considered to be totally placid. There are stresses and strains. The democracy we take for granted and the tolerance we have in our society despite our political differences, unfortunately do not exist in the way we would hope they would in other countries in our region.

Many of the parliamentary disputes that we have in this chamber and in this Parliament really pale into insignificance when someone like Jean-Marie Tjibaou is assassinated. The arguments that we have over such things as preselections, elections to parliamentary caucus and so on are really minuscule when compared with people in other parts of the world paying with their lives for arguing for those same rights.

Despite the obvious extraordinary stress and strain that will occur in New Caledonia over the next few days, I hope that peace and stability in that country can be maintained. I am sure that the Australian Government and the Australian Opposition parties will express strong support and do all that they can to encourage all the parties in New Caledonia to remain peaceful and not to start a cycle of retribution resulting in further bloodshed. It would be a final tribute to Jean-Marine Tjibaou if no more people die in a cycle of vengeance because of these dreadful assassinations tonight.

I hope that the Australian Parliament and the Australian Government will send suitable representatives to his funeral whenever it is held. I would certainly like to be involved. That may not be possible but I certainly hope that the Government and the Opposition parties are properly represented at his funeral.

In conclusion, I repeat that, personally, this is a terrible shock. I know that Senator Hill, who was a member of the delegation, will speak next. He met Jean-Marie Tjibaou. He went to New Caledonia and he has taken an interest in that country. Like me, he is terribly shocked and disappointed at what has happened. One despairs when a person like Jean-Marie Tjibaou, who has given so much to his country, is assassinated by a lunatic at a time when progress is being made to achieve the goal he had set himself. I hope that, at an appropriate time, the Senate will carry a resolution recognising his great contribution to Kanak independence and the people of the South Pacific.