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Tuesday, 23 November 1993
Page: 3411

Senator BOURNE —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Has the minister seen the report released last week by Amnesty International which suggested that Australia is implicated in human rights abuses being committed on Bougainville? How is Australia reviewing its relationship with Papua New Guinea in light of this report? Will the minister recommend to the Department of Defence that it use the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade human rights manual in its training program? Will the Australian government make further representations to the Papua New Guinea government urging access to Bougainville for humanitarian agencies?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am aware of the report, although I have not yet had the opportunity to study it in detail. The Australian government shares Amnesty's concern at reports of continuing human rights violations on Bougainville, both on the part of PNG security forces and the Bougainville rebels. That said, it has to be acknowledged that the situation there is a very complex one and it is very difficult to obtain unbiased accounts of incidents involving claims of human rights abuse. For that reason the government welcomes the statement that was made on the weekend by defence minister Tohian that the PNG government will fully address the Amnesty report and its recommendations.

  I reject the inference that the Amnesty allegations have damaged Australian government credibility on human rights in the region. Our commitment to upholding human rights is absolutely universal in its application. We have regularly raised our concerns about possible human rights abuses on Bougainville with the PNG government, emphasising the need for appropriate disciplinary or legal action to be taken against offenders from whatever side, and specifically urging the government to seek a political solution rather than a military one to the conflict on Bougainville.

  Our policy in the human rights field is well known internationally. It has been well stated recently by the Prime Minister. We simply will not compromise on questions of democracy, our commitment to human rights or in our respect for human values.

  As to the question about reviewing our relationship with Papua New Guinea, we have long recognised that, to be influential in achieving human rights objectives, we need to be aware of the totality of issues which make up any particular bilateral relationship. In this regard—as I and the Prime Minister have said on other occasions—we seek to handle human rights issues consistently but sensitively, only in very exceptional circumstances doing anything other than relying on quiet persuasion. Punitive or other sanctions can be relevant on occasions, but we do not see them as being relevant here.

  The suggestion contained in the Amnesty report that we consider suspending military aid to Papua New Guinea in the circumstances of the Bougainville situation is simply not a constructive one. Australian defence assistance to PNG is aimed at developing that country's defence force capabilities across the range of its constitutionally defined functions, which include national security protection, fisheries surveillance, search and rescue, support for internal security and aid to the civil power. Our defence assistance also extends to supervision of civil engineering tasks in two provinces and communications assistance to PNG police. It perhaps ought to be stated again, because it seems to be constantly misunderstood, that we are providing no direct operational assistance to PNG security forces on Bougainville.

  Senator Bourne's question on the human rights manual was an interesting one; I am sure Defence will be interested in it. I will certainly see whether Senator Ray and his colleagues in Defence are interested in using it; I think they might derive some benefit from it. I am indebted to Senator Bourne for her suggestion.

  In relation to further representations about humanitarian agencies' access to Bougainville, the government, both publicly and privately, has been urging the PNG government to give humanitarian agencies access to Bougainville. Indeed, it was as a result of an initiative taken by us in 1990 that the first international NGOs were allowed access to Bougainville the following year. All of these issues will be raised during the forthcoming Australia-Papua New Guinea ministerial forum, which is being held in Mount Hagen in about nine or 10 days time.