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Wednesday, 24 November 1993
Page: 3546

Senator CHILDS —My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. What is the Australian government's reaction to the military coup in Nigeria which has put prospects for the return to democracy on indefinite hold? Are Australians in Nigeria at any personal risk?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am indebted to Senator Childs for this opportunity to express the Australian government's very serious concern over the military takeover which occurred in Nigeria some days ago on 18 November. The coup, led by General Abacha, is especially untimely, given moves towards democracy and multi-party government in many other African countries. By its actions in removing the interim government and its wholesale dismantling of government and democratic institutions, the Nigerian military really has dealt a very severe blow to any prospects for democracy in that country in the foreseeable future.

  Of particular concern is the fact that the military has dissolved the Senate, the House of Representatives and national and state assemblies, and has dismissed state governors and civilian administrators. General Abacha has also dissolved the National Electoral Commission, outlawed political parties and revoked democratic rights, including the holding of political gatherings and demonstrations. It will be remembered that the Nigerian people voted freely in presidential elections on 12 June this year; the then military regime later annulled those elections and installed an interim government of its own choosing, further delaying the introduction of democracy. Those interim government arrangements were declared unconstitutional by the Nigerian High Court on 10 November. Along with just about all other members of the international community, we very strongly urge the military leadership to set the process of democratisation back on track.

  As to the situation for Australians in Nigeria, I understand that the situation in Lagos—which is not an easy environment at the best of times—and other parts of the country is relatively calm at the moment. But my department is recommending that Australian travellers consider deferring non-essential travel to Nigeria. Australians who desire to travel there should keep themselves informed of developments and are advised to register with the Australian High Commission in Lagos. Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.

The PRESIDENT —Order! During question time Senator Kernot raised a point of order with me. It is disorderly to use offensive words against groups of members of either house, as distinct from individually named members. It was a ruling originally given in 1916. It was a ruling that I gave again on 10 December 1991. The situation that she referred to was dealt with on page 11 of the procedure committee's third report of 1992 relating to unparliamentary language. It is clearly out of order.