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Tuesday, 15 August 1989
Page: 4330

Senator HILL —I refer the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade to his press release of 24 July, to which he himself referred a moment ago, concerning Myanmar and to that part of his press release which welcomes the Myanmar Government's promise of elections in April and May 1990 and his statement that `since then the election program has been adhered to'. I remind the Minister that his statement was made not before but after, firstly, the setting up of martial law courts in Myanmar, giving regional military commanders the power to sentence people to death and to ban witnesses from trials; secondly, the arrests of Opposition leaders to which the Minister has referred today; and, thirdly, the military Government's announcement of 9 June that it would retain power until a new constitution is written by an elected parliament, a process that could take some years. I ask the Minister: How can the suppression of freedom of movement and expression be consistent with an election program?

Senator GARETH EVANS —Senator Hill, as has been the case so often in recent weeks since he has aspired to greatness in his new front bench role, has taken that particular statement out of--

Senator Archer —You make it very easy for him.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am doing my best, Senator. I am sorry if it does not meet Senator Archer's own very high standards in this respect. The statement that I made on 21 July referred to the electoral program, not to the general political situation in Burma, which remains troubled and unhappy in all sorts of ways, including those to which Senator Hill has referred. The electoral program, in terms of bureaucratic arrangements for an election timetable within the period that has been broadly identified, has been on track-or, at least, was on track in July. A degree of scepticism about the seriousness of purpose of the present military regime is entirely justified, given the variety of things that have been happening in the last couple of months, in particular in Myanmar.

Earlier today I said, in the context of the resumption of Australian aid to that country, that I am not inclined to pursue that unless there is substantial evident progress towards restoration of human rights and electoral democracy. The two go together. I am not satisfied that there has been such progress in recent times. I share Senator Hill's perception and concern about that. I do not think it is an issue on which to be scoring partisan points. I think we both share a concern about the situation there. I would hope that we can work together, with violins playing accordingly, to articulate a joint view of the world in the hope that that may have some impact on a regime that is notoriously insensitive to such international pressure.