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Thursday, 8 June 1989
Page: 3639

Senator SCHACHT(12.45) —I want to make a few brief remarks regarding the situation in China and, in particular, respond to some remarks made by Senator Harradine today during the debate on the motion moved by Senator Robert Ray, on behalf of Senator Gareth Evans. I did not have a chance to speak in that debate because of time constraints due to the amount of government business to be dealt with. Senator Harradine, although he made a personal explanation at the end of the debate, I think left an unfortunate impression that the Australian Government has been soft in its attitude to the Chinese Government in recent years over the issue of human rights because of our interest in trade matters. I completely refute that. I believe that if one studies the records of any international forum, one will find that over the last six years this Government has been a supporter of human rights wherever the issue has arisen, without fear or favour. I believe our record is one that is recognised by other democratic countries as being exemplary. I believe it is unfortunate that Senator Harradine left that impression. Certainly, in his personal explanation, he said he was not implying that individual members of parliament were not concerned about human rights in China, but he did leave the impression that the Government was soft on the issue.

I mention to the Senate that in April 1987 I was invited to visit China as a guest of the international liaison section of the Chinese Communist Party. It has an extensive program under which people from Australia and other countries are invited to visit China. Senator Teague-I think 1988 was the most recent occasion-represented the Liberal Party under a similar program. So the program does not just invite people from particular parties. The Chinese Communist Party uses it to invite a whole range of people. During my two-week visit, I had discussions with senior members of the international liaison section of the Communist Party of China over six hours spread across two days. The major points that I raised, in accordance with Australian Labor Party policy-I was not then a senator but I was, and still am, a member of the international committee of the Labor Party-were the issue of human rights, the issue of democracy, and the extent to which China intended to develop its system to take account of the right of people to dissent, to form free trade unions-and, if they so choose, to strike, to withdraw their labour-and the right of people to have access to a free press.

I had meetings with senior editors of the People's Daily, the official newspaper, and again raised those issues. I do not believe that I did anything remarkable, compared to what many other Australians have done, but I think it is wrong to suggest that the Australian Labor Party Government has been soft on China. Certainly, members of the Chinese Communist Party at times felt uncomfortable, when I had discussions with them, about the issues we were raising. I think it is a pity that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Senator Gareth Evans) could not be here-at the moment he is overseas on Government business-to give a detailed response to what Senator Harradine said. I am sure that when he returns that detailed response will be given and it will prove conclusively that Australia's role in supporting human rights in China is one of which the Australian community can be proud.

I conclude by referring to activities in Australia at the moment. I gave notice of a motion yesterday in which I reminded the Senate that at 1 o'clock tomorrow in the Great Hall of Parliament House a memorial service will be held for the people killed in China in the last few days. I hope that as it will occur during the lunch break, as many senators as possible will attend that function. Protest rallies will be held in various places in Australia tomorrow. I am sure that many more will be held in coming weeks. I certainly look forward, in view of Senator Harradine's great interest in these issues, to seeing whether he attends those rallies. I believe that it is one way in which we can demonstrate our support to the Chinese people.

Yesterday I raised an issue about Radio Australia. I requested the Managing Director of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation to permit Radio Australia to extend its Chinese language broadcasts to China so that there is more opportunity for Chinese people to hear on the short wave band what is actually happening in their own country, having regard to the fact that the official press is not reporting those events. Above all, it would show the Chinese people that there is strong support from people elsewhere in the world for their struggle for democracy.

There is another way in which we can show our support. Last night on television an American commentator said that many Chinese students living in America at the moment are sending random fax and telex messages to China, explaining what is going on in the Western press, and giving expressions of support. I am making arrangements to obtain a copy of the fax and telex directory for the People's Republic of China and will arrange its distribution amongst protest groups in Australia-and among members of the Senate, if they wish to get a copy-and will encourage people to make their contribution to the support of democracy in China by also sending faxes and telexes to random numbers in China so that people in China are aware that they are not alone in their struggle.

Next week it will probably be necessary for us again to place on the agenda another notice of motion. I note the remarks of Senator Hill earlier today regarding the need for there to be a more extensive debate. I think that is necessary and I hope it can be arranged without affecting the Government's legislative program. I agree with Senator Hill; these are momentous events in China and they should be debated in the Parliament in a bipartisan way. I do not think it does our cause for the support of democracy any good to start criticising each other and what our role has been, or whether we have been strong enough in the past. I believe that the record of the Parliament and the Australian Government over the last few years on human rights in China has been good and does not need to be criticised. I think we need to put on the record continually our concern about what is happening.

Senator Hill —You don't think China is being judged by different standards compared to some other places in the world?

Senator SCHACHT —That may be the case.

Senator MacGibbon —Like South Africa, for example, with your lot.

Senator SCHACHT —If we are concerned about human rights, as I certainly am, we will know that there may be 60, 70, or 100 countries that have human rights abuses that we find intolerable. They occur sometimes under regimes of the totalitarian Left; sometimes under regimes of the totalitarian Right. I do not think we can afford to be self-serving and try to pick and choose where we think human rights abuses are less abusive because they may occur under regimes of the Right or the Left.

I think this Parliament and the Australian Government have been quite correct in taking up the question of human rights under various regimes, irrespective of where they occur. I, like many other senators, have a particular interest in some countries. I am interested in human rights violations in Burma. Four thousand students and civilians were killed last year in Burma by the army when they demonstrated for democracy. They did not get coverage in the West because of the lack of access by television and the news media to Burma. But those events were just as horrific as what has been occurring in China in the last week. I do not criticise other members of the Senate by saying they are soft on human rights in Burma because they have not been there or they have not seen the information. I was fortunate to visit Burma earlier this year for a week and met students who had been tortured or beaten up. I met people who had been arrested and detained for years without trial. I deplore that. I do not criticise other members of the Senate or the Australian Government for being supposedly less active in Burma, because there is a lack of information. Before people say we are selective or give more emphasis to one country than another, they should realise that on many occasions it is a matter of available information. We have quite rightly taken up the matter of South Africa, about which Senator MacGibbon interjected. South Africa is a country that hangs more people per year than practically any other country. Most of the people it hangs, if not all of them, are black.

Senator Hill —Nowhere near the number that get executed in China, though.

Senator SCHACHT —Senator Hill is right, certainly not the number that have been shot down in the streets in China.

Senator Hill —No, I mean legally, for the commission of offences. The death penalty in China is used more extensively than practically anywhere else.

Senator SCHACHT —Yes. When I was in China in 1987 I raised with Chinese authorities the system during 1985-86, when it is estimated that maybe 20,000, 30,000 or 40,000 people had been, in my view, summarily executed for supposed criminal activities. That is something that I find quite abhorrent, just as I find it abhorrent that in the mid-1980s in Indonesia similar activities were carried out by the Government to get rid of so-called criminal elements. The point I am making is that one cannot be selective; one should not make a judgment that one country is worse than another on human rights abuses. We must be active in promoting human rights wherever abuses occur, without fear or favour. I believe that this Government and this Parliament have been as effective on these matters as any in the world in acting without fear or favour-at times to our cost and to the irritation of other countries, including China.

I visited Vietnam and Indonesia in January. In both of those places I raised, along with other members of the delegation, human rights abuses. It was embarrassing to our hosts when we raised the matters, but we did raise them because they were issues about which we felt strongly. I conclude by saying I hope that before the Senate rises, subject to the Government's legislative programs, we can have a debate on events in China, which I think would be worth while.