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Thursday, 6 December 1990
Page: 5175

Senator HILL (Leader of the Opposition)(5.12) —I wish to speak to this motion to take note of the statement which the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade (Senator Gareth Evans) has put down today on the subject of Cambodia. The Minister advised the Senate two days ago that this was to be a major statement. We have been wondering, not surprisingly, what it would contain. There has been considerable speculation about this matter of recent times. We read of intended visits by the Minister to Phnom Penh; we read of plans to establish a mission in Phnom Penh. In fact, I understand that certain personnel from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have been advised that they will have positions in that mission. We were therefore expecting something of some moment in this statement.

I have to say that, although it is a very long document-perhaps that is a definition of `major'-we find it somewhat puzzling because it contains very little that is new. First and foremost, it is a history of the sad events of Cambodia and a record of the contribution of this and previous governments to do something to contribute to a peaceful resolution of the Cambodian conflict. Secondly, it is an attempt to refute some of the concerns that we have been expressing about how the peace process that is being advanced might facilitate or advantage the Khmer Rouge, and I will come back to that because it is a particularly important aspect. Thirdly, in some ways it seems to sow the seed of an acknowledgment of failure, to suggest a need for a substantial policy change. I guess that is new.

We are left wondering whether the Minister genuinely believes that the comprehensive settlement process might now fail. Up until today the Australian Government has been incredibly optimistic-we have suggested at times even overoptimistic-particularly in its timetable expecting peace to come about by the end of this year, the United Nations forces to be in Cambodia and the UN administration in place. We have tried to put to the Government just how unrealistic some of these hopes have been. Now it seems that, in the Minister's terms in the statement, the window of opportunity is closing. It is the first time that has been said by the Minister, so perhaps we are being softened up for an about-turn in policy.

The statement also fails to allay our fears about the position of the Khmer Rouge. At no time have we suggested that the Australian Government has wanted to take any step to advantage the Khmer Rouge, but it has seemed to us that, under the shield of the comprehensive settlement process, the Khmer Rouge has been advantaged, and the thought of the Khmer Rouge retaking power in Cambodia is almost too horrific to contemplate. Whether that is why the Minister is now softening us up for an about-turn in policy I do not know. We simply do not get the answers to those questions in this paper.

I also want to take the opportunity to make one point clear because it has been suggested otherwise from time to time. We do recognise the efforts that this Government has taken in making a positive contribution to the resolution of this awful conflict. We recognise the application and energy of Senator Evans in this matter. We are pleased that he has recognised that previous Australian governments, as I said a moment ago, have also made a contribution. He recognises in his paper that the Fraser Government decided to derecognise the Democratic Kampuchea (DK) regime, and did so in February 1981.

Senator Evans recognises in his statement the contribution that his predecessor, Mr Hayden, made as Foreign Minister. We have always said that Mr Hayden's efforts were well intended. His strategy was to look for a great Australian influence through developing a better relationship with Vietnam. It was believed by many that in some ways the application was mistaken in that Mr Hayden got Australia out ahead of our Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) friends and as a result we lost some capacity to influence events. But that was not the intention; the intention was clearly to find a worthwhile role for Australia in this particular issue. As I have said, Senator Evans has continued those efforts and has left his mark on the history of the international communities' attempts to facilitate a resolution.

Senator Evans realises that, when he announced the new moves in his policy some time ago for an enhanced role for the United Nations, we criticised the fact that this was packaged in a way to suggest that it would no longer be necessary to involve the Khmer Rouge in the process-that once we had moved away from a quadripartite solution and a direct role for the four factions to an enhanced role for the UN, in some ways we were avoiding the Khmer Rouge difficulty. That is simply not so. Senator Evans recognises the cooperation and participation of the Khmer Rouge in this comprehensive settlement process is as vital now to its success as it has ever been. Therein lies one of our concerns: the Khmer Rouge is simply using the process to its advantage.

Secondly, I have to say that we have been somewhat unimpressed by the level of self-congratulations that has been accepted by our Minister and other Foreign Ministers in this particular exercise. This was well expressed in the editorial in the Australian Financial Review a day or so ago, which stated that the degree of one-upmanship by Foreign Ministers in this issue is almost unprecedented. There has been Nobel Peace Prize talk as each offers to nominate the other, and one can continue in this vein.

It is important to recognise that while the Foreign Ministers of the world are slapping each other on the back on this issue, men and women are continuing to be killed and maimed every day in Cambodia. They continue to be dispossessed of their homes. There are somewhere between 150,000 to 300,000 displaced people in Cambodia at the moment. If Senator Evans goes to Cambodia next year, he will witness some of that tragedy which has been witnessed by people like Senator Schacht when he was there earlier this year and me. This does bring home the reality of the horror that is a daily event in Cambodia.

The few days that I was in Phnom Penh happened to coincide with one of the three major attacks on trains by the Khmer Rouge only 70 kilometres from the capital. The train was mined. Those who were not killed by the train being derailed were removed from it. The officials were separated from the peasants. The officials were all then shot and the peasants were sent home to the villages to give the message. Those who were wounded were later taken into Phnom Penh, where the message further spread.

The message, of course, is one of terror. It is the age old strategy of the Khmer Rouge and it is being practised now as effectively as it ever was. It remains as horrible as it ever was. Peasants return from the fields during the day, go to their grain baskets, put their hand in and have their arm blown off by a Chinese-made plastic mine, put there by the Khmer Rouge to spread terror. This is the background. The Minister has been interjecting but I did not hear what he said. But that is why we have been saying that we would far have preferred more effort to be put into pressing the parties to a cease-fire than some of the other--

Senator Gareth Evans —What does the senator think we have been doing?

Senator HILL —The Minister did not do it in Tokyo. That was his best chance to get a cease-fire. The Minister ignored that. The Khmer Rouge did not attend that conference because they did not wish to be locked into a cease-fire.

The third area of concern that we have had, which I mentioned a moment ago, is that the policy might be wrong. It might in fact be less likely than more likely to lead to a settlement and to peace. We have said that the comprehensive settlement ideally is the best option. In an ideal world, a process that could lock all four Khmer factions into a settlement would appear to be better than a process that leaves one-say the Khmer Rouge-out of the process, to continue its path of aggression.

The problem is that with Cambodia one is not looking at an intellectual exercise and one is not looking at an ideal world. What we have observed is that when the comprehensive settlement process was advanced a year ago, the position on the ground in Cambodia then was very different from the position now. The position of the Khmer Rouge was different. They significantly advanced their position, which I might go into in more detail in a minute, during the ensuing year. On the other hand, the position of the Hun Sen Government in Phnom Penh has significantly deteriorated. I think the paper delivered today is the first time that that has been acknowledged by the Australian Government.

Through a series of events-in particular, the withdrawal of Soviet and Eastern Bloc aid for the Phnom Penh Government-Cambodia's economic position has significantly deteriorated. It has run into internal political difficulty as the old guard has sought to see advantages from the dialogue process. It has failed to do so and, as a result, has turned on Hun Sen in particular. It has lost credit as the terror campaign of the Khmer Rouge has proved more successful and the morale of the population has dropped. The situation has been reached where one must really put a question mark over the future of the Hun Sen Government. The Opposition has been saying that for some time.

Senator Gareth Evans —You have never offered an alternative strategy.

Senator HILL —If the Minister is patient, he might hear some. This is the first paper in which I have noted the Minister acknowledging the deterioration of that regime's position. What I am saying is that the balance has significantly changed during the course of this last year. The position that was to be locked in by the comprehensive settlement a year ago is very different to the position that might now be locked in by the comprehensive settlement, particularly when we look at the balance between the Hun Sen regime and the Khmer Rouge. That has caused us very genuine concerns, which seem to have been ignored by the Government.

Two days ago my colleague, Senator Teague, asked the Minister a fairly simple question that concerned our worries about the rise again of the Khmer Rouge and whether they were being adequately excluded from this process. He asked the Minister:

. . . what arrangements in the settlement process have been agreed on in order to disarm and contain the Khmer Rouge? Secondly, what mechanisms are in place to prevent Pol Pot and his deputies from returning to power? Is it in fact the case that the P5 agreement-

the Permanent Five agreement-

provides no assurances at all? Finally, is it true that Son Sann, one of the Khmer Rouge representatives on the Supreme National Council-

I remind the Senate that there are only two-

is a Pol Pot deputy and allegedly responsible for gross human rights violations during their period in power?

Three simple questions, I would have thought, to put to a Foreign Minister of this country. The Minister declined to answer the questions, instead saying that there would be a major paper put down today and that we would presumably find the answer to those questions in that major paper. Well, they simply are not there. No-one has adequately answered the first question-how the Khmer Rouge are to be disarmed and contained. The Hun Sen Government is not satisfied that it can be done because of the two to three years during which everyone seems to concede weapons will be hidden. Therefore, we have developed this quaint notion that in some ways the Khmer factions would voluntarily give up their arms but they would have access to them in case the settlement breaks down. What that really amounts to is that there are no effective guarantees of disarmament of the Khmer Rouge at all. Senator Teague also asked:

Secondly, what mechanisms are in place to prevent Pol Pot and his deputies from returning to power?

The Government's answer to that in the paper seems to be that no-one will agree to Pol Pot's standing for election. Nobody realistically expects Pol Pot to stand for election. That is not the way in which Pol Pot exerts and maintains power. He does not go through an electoral process. Obviously he never will. His power has been gained at the point of a gun. He is in a stronger position now since he was last removed from Phnom Penh and he simply is not going to give up that power and influence. It seems to be generally believed that Pol Pot and his deputies are still in control and still pulling the strings, usually from their camps in Thailand.

The Minister says, `Look at the documents and see what provisions are there to ensure that Pol Pot and his deputies will not be returned. I read the P5 statement, and it contains no assurance, no mechanism at all to ensure that Pol Pot and his deputies will not maintain power and influence after a settlement. That causes us serious concern.

Finally, we said to the Minister in that series of three simple questions, `Is it true that Son Sann, one of the Khmer Rouge representatives, is a Pol Pot deputy allegedly responsible for gross human rights violations?'. This is the person that the international community is apparently endorsing as one of the two Khmer Rouge representatives on the Supreme National Council (SNC), and I find no answer to that in the statement that the Minister has put down.

Senator Gareth Evans —It is on page 17.

Senator HILL —I remind the Minister of the article in the Economist, a highly reputable journal, of 22 September that refers to Son Sann, who said that he was a general in the Khmer Rouge Army that captured Phnom Penh in 1975, that he subsequently became Defence Minister in the Pol Pot Government-these are the people who are being legitimately returned to power under the Minister's program-that ruled Cambodia until it was banished by the Vietnamese in 1978. He had some role in internal security-that is, imprisoning, torturing and killing everyone the Government said was his enemy. His name has been linked with the Tuol Sleng school in Phnom Penh that the Minister might visit if he goes there next year, the torture chamber, which might bring the Minister back to earth on some of these issues. It says in the Economist:

His appointment to the SNC presumably came on the instruction of Mr Pol Pot, who is assumed still to be running the Khmer Rouge from a refugee camp they control in Thailand.

The two men, Pol Pot and Son Sann, are related. We genuinely ask these questions of the Government and we do not get answers or assurances in the statement put down by the Minister today. So our concerns remain as valid as ever.

Let us look for a moment at the position of the Khmer Rouge. The Minister has assumed that they are genuinely wanting to participate in this peaceful process towards election.

Senator Gareth Evans —No, I have not.

Senator HILL — That is the basis of it, otherwise the Minister might as well not be going down this path, the path that he seems now willing to abandon. What step does the Minister intend to take then? The legitimacy of the Khmer Rouge is enhanced by the process; there is no doubt about that. Once they get a position on the SNC, they get national legitimacy as a result.

During the year-this is the year of the Minister's program-their military activity has increased. Most experts seem to accept that their influence in the countryside has extended. They are now exerting influence over a much greater proportion of the country as a whole, having moved away from just the mountainous and border areas. The strategy is the encirclement of Phnom Penh with guerillas fanning out from Kompong Thom in the north, to Kampot in the south and Kompong Chhnang in the north-west of Phnom Penh-a process of expanding influence. I mention the practice now of attacking trains, with three trains having been attacked in the past year and ever extending signs of influence-still principally a terrorist exercise, not seeking to take and hold large tracts of land.

We have been disturbed by the allegations that they have now been provided with tanks by China. I see that the Minister in his statement today refutes the fact, indicating that Australian intelligence sources now doubt whether tanks have been supplied. That is interesting-it is the first I have heard of it-because it was reported not in any rag but in Jane's Defence Weekly--

Senator Gareth Evans —For fuck's sake.

Senator HILL —For what?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Aulich) -Minister!

Senator HILL —For what?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! I ask the Minister to withdraw that.

Senator Gareth Evans —For goodness sake.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I ask the Minister to withdraw that comment.

Senator Gareth Evans —It is not on the record.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I am afraid it is, and I ask the Minister to withdraw it. The speaker responded, it was most disorderly, and I ask you to withdraw any intemperate statement.

Senator Gareth Evans —Of course I withdraw it.

Senator HILL — I think it is probably unprecedented in the history of this place.

Senator Gareth Evans —Well, what a monstrous piece of nonsense--

Senator HILL —Jane's Defence Weekly--

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator, take your seat. Minister, you have repeatedly--

Senator Gareth Evans —Of course I have withdrawn it.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Minister, take your seat. You have repeatedly interjected; that has been ignored by the speaker. You must give him the right to be heard. There was a disorderly interjection, you have withdrawn it and I will call the speaker to continue without any further interruption.

Senator HILL — Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. Oh, now it becomes a laughing matter apparently. Mr Acting Deputy President, what I was doing was expressing concern about the expanding influence of the Khmer Rouge under the shield of the Minister's proposals in this area. There is no doubt that that has occurred, there is no doubt that the Phnom Penh Government during this period has lost influence. There is no doubt that there is the chance of a comprehensive settlement if it can be realistically expected to work-that is, if one can realistically expect the Khmer Rouge to participate in a democratic process. I have always wondered whether that is so. There is no doubt that the Khmer Rouge has vastly expanded its position of power and influence within Cambodia during the past year.

The Minister has kept interjecting, asking what other options are open, what should he be doing, and I expect that we shall hear fairly soon from the Australian Government as to what alternative process it will adopt next for Cambodia. We have been saying that we believe there was an alternative of greater influence towards a cease-fire and that that has been largely avoided. We believe it would have been worthwhile if there had been more effort to try to lock out the military aspect of the Cambodian issue over the past 12 months, and perhaps a little less on the diplomatic set. We think that advantages could have come out of it. We have been saying for years that this Government and other governments could have brought an action in genocide against Pol Pot and his regime. This Government has had its own internal advice to that effect, but it has disregarded that advice. It would have had the advantage of properly excluding Pol Pot and his deputies from the process-those whom we fear are to be advantaged by the Government's action.

We have said also that if it appears on a realistic assessment that this will be a path back to power for the Khmer Rouge, or alternatively that the comprehensive settlement process will not work, again the international community should have been looking at the option of a linkage of three factions that excluded the Khmer Rouge, but that has been disregarded. I know that the argument for disregarding it is the one I mentioned a while ago that nevertheless leaves the Khmer Rouge in the field, but if the international community is prepared to support the three factions at the exclusion of the Khmer Rouge, it can be equally argued that the position of the Khmer Rouge becomes marginalised. There is a lot that can be done that has not been done by this Government. Why does it now seem that we may be going to face an about-turn? Why is the Minister now saying that it looks as if the window of opportunity has been closed?

I suggest that it might be a sudden realisation of the enormous hurdles that still remain-hurdles that the Minister will not acknowledge, hurdles that I mentioned in this chamber some little time ago-and the difficulties that the UN itself still sees that lie ahead with containment and disarmament of the Khmer factions. As the UN officials say, they cannot get to square one with that because the factions have not even been prepared to give them information as to their military assets.

The UN still needs to send another military adviser group to Cambodia, but they cannot go until there is a cease-fire. It comes back to that key political point. The UN says that before it can take any action there must be major development of infrastructure-ports, roads, airfields and communications-which is a massive job in itself. The 200,000-odd displaced persons have to be resettled. The land has to be cleared of mines. The security of the UN personnel and perhaps Australian personnel, if that is what the Government is intending, has to be ensured.

Also, the UN has to take over the administration, which is a key to the breakdown of the five functions of government that the Hun Sen Government was to give to the UN; that is, foreign policy, defence, communications, interior, and finance. Of course, it is only in the last few days that Hun Sen has come out again and said, `I am simply not prepared to give over those functions to the UN. I am not prepared to weaken my position in any political process that might further ensue by handing over those functions of government'.

Perhaps, finally, the Minister is realising the enormity of the challenge that is still ahead. It is not a matter that can simply be resolved through conferences in Paris, in Indonesia, in Jakarta, and elsewhere, because on the ground Cambodians have continued to suffer. Perhaps he is now finally recognising that that should be the key and that attempts should be made more realistically to assess what efforts the international community can make, particularly to bring the Khmer Rouge to heel, which is now in a stronger position than it has been in since it was last removed from Phnom Penh. I am pleased that we have had a statement and I am pleased that we have had an opportunity to talk about some of these issues. But I regret that the statement has not advanced the issue.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.