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Wednesday, 20 February 1980
Page: 131


Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) -The Opposition unequivocally opposes military intervention in the affairs of any country, and the amendment that has been moved on behalf of the Opposition makes that perfectly clear. We cannot say that military intervention is all right when the United States is involved at the request of another country and not all right when the Soviet Union is so involved. There is a need to be consistent about that particular aspect. There are many Australians who regard the new-found concern of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) about Afghanistan as cynical, political exploitation of a tragic international event. Australians wonder why the Prime Minister and his Government have not exhibited the same concern about the brutal genocide that has occurred under the savage and bloodthirsty Pol Pot regime in Kampuchea. Why is it that we still recognise the murderous Pol Pot regime and did little more at the recent ASEAN conference than arrange for the Foreign Minister of Malaysia to use his good offices to influence the Vietnamese Government about the situation in Kampuchea? How do we reconcile the paranoia of the Prime Minister about Afghanistan with his indifference to Indonesia's ruthless oppression of the people of Timor? We should bear in mind that this event occurred some four weeks after the LiberalNational Country Party Government was elected in 1975. There has been no mission of mercy to Timor. There have been no intimidatory threats to Indonesia about that situation. Timor, a former ally, has been denied.

Why has the Prime Minister taken off on the Afghanistan trail like a blowfly at a barbecue? Why is he bristling with belligerence in his selfappointed role as the international agent provocateur concerning events in Afghanistan? What a sad and pathetic spectacle it was to see our Prime Minister, slavish and sycophant, sacrifice Australia 's independence to become the messenger boy, the self-appointed and unpaid emissary of the United States of America. Can it be that all the posturing, all the provocative pronouncements, the threat of trade embargoes and the boycott of the Olympics are designed for miserable, petty, partisan political purposes? Is all this just the Fraser answer to his failing economic policies, his flagging election prospects? If it did not work for Joe Clark in Canada I cannot see how it is going to work for Malcolm Fraser in

Australia. The Australian people are a wake up; they are not going to fall for the sabre rattling, for the desperate attempt to achieve a khaki election atmosphere. I believe that the Government is out of step with the Australian people on this matter.

I was interested to read the National Times survey commissioned on Thursday last, 24 hours after the Prime Minister's address to the nation on the Afghanistan issue. The question was asked:

Do you feel the recent Soviet actions affect you personally or not?

Some 26 per cent of Australians surveyed answered yes. Some 67 per cent answered no. The following question also was asked:

Do you think the Australian Government should or should not prevent athletes who want to compete in the Olympic Games from participating?

Some 24 per cent said that they should be prevented. Some 70 per cent said that they should not. I believe that the Government should think again.

I was interested to receive from the Parliamentary Library a table indicating the occasions since the first modern Olympics in 1896 when armed conflicts were taking place simultaneously with the Games. I observe that there have been 16 scheduled events since that year, but the only games cancelled were those which coincided with the First and Second World Wars. On every other occasion some part of the world was at war. Honourable members will be interested to study the table for themselves and I seek permission to have it incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The table read as follows-

 

 


Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) -I thank the House. Afghanistan, one of the most pauperised nations in the world, is suddenly the subject of the Prime Minister's passionate concern. We only comment that that is out of character. There has always been cause for concern about that troubled land yet the West, including Australia and the United States of America, have virtually abdicated from any responsibility concerning it. The per capita income of the 15 million to 18 million Afghan people is said to be only $150 per annum. Afghanistan's gross national product for 1975-76, the last year for which figures seem to be available, amounted to only $1.6 billion- an amount, we are told, that is less than the United States spends on dog food. Only 10 per cent of the Afghan population is literate and less than half of those have any secondary education. Some 50 per cent of all Afghan children die before reaching 5 years of age.

I note that Australian aid seems to have been very inadequate. In the 33 years from 1946 to 1979 a total of $3.5m has been allocated-half as much as we sent to Nepal, or to Korea. Australia has always given Afghanistan a low priority. We have no diplomatic mission there and virtually no trade with it. In 1978 Australia and the West virtually gave de facto power to the Soviet Union by abdicating entirely from Afghanistan's affairs. Afghanistan is an unstable, Islamic, tribal, feudal state which at the moment could actually be in an ungovernable situation. The region is destabilised by a combination of influence exerted by the Soviet KGB, the CIA, the Iranian secret security forces and insurgents from Pakistan backed by the United States of America. Having had an opportunity to lead a parliamentary delegation to India, Pakistan and Iran, having gone to the border area of Afghanistan, to the Khyber Pass, having talked with Mrs Gandhi and the late Mr Bhutto, the former President of Pakistan, I am able to say that they were quite unequivocal in their contention that trouble was brewing as a result of CIA activity in their countries. We know of the events that have transpired.

Afghanistan shares a 1,200 kilometre border with the Soviet Union and has always been enormously dependent upon it. Afghanistan was the first country to recognise the Soviet Union after the 1918-19 Revolution. In 1979, 70 per cent of Kabul's foreign debt was owed to Moscow. Also, Afghanistan has developed a great dependency on Soviet road connections northward as an outlet for its exports because of the unsatisfactory or unreliable nature of outlets through Pakistan, into Karachi especially. Some 75 per cent of its trade passes through the Soviet Union. In recent times the outlet to Karachi, and that to Iran as well, have become unstable.

Afghanistan is a country of subsistence farmers, nomadic shepherds and a peculiar mixture of religion and rackets involving gun runners and drug peddlers. As I have said, probably it is almost ungovernable. The monarchy was overthrown in 1975 by a cousin of the king and since 1978 there have been three Marxist leaders, Taraki, Amin and Karmal. There have long been border disputes. Afghanistan has never accepted the Durand line as its frontier with Pakistan. That is an irrational boundary and a legacy of the British rule in India of 1893. She even voted against Pakistan's admission to the United Nations in protest against the border issue.

On 3 December 1978, President Brezhnev of the Soviet Union signed with Taraki, the then Prime Minister of Afghanistan, a 20-year treaty of friendship. It was certainly not the first treaty between those countries. It committed the Soviet

Union, amongst other things, to providing military aid when called upon. We find that on 14 February 1979 United States Ambassador Dubs was killed. The United States responded by cutting aid from $13m to $2. 6m, thus' forcing an even greater dependency on the Soviet Union. Since April 1978 the Soviet has signed 30 agreements with Afghanistan and its agencies so there is nothing new about either the Soviet presence in, or its involvement with, Afghanistan. The question is: Can the massive escalation of the Russian presence, with the connivance of Karmal, the new Marxist Prime Minister of the country, be justified? The fact is that the Soviet Union, with 80 million Moslems within its borders, is concerned about the Islamic uprising in the region- in Iran, in Saudi Arabia and in Iraq and on the frontier with Pakistan. There is a contention that the Central Intelligence Agency is active. So in this troubled area I suppose it is not surprising that the major power should seek to stabilise the situation. I suppose that the situation can be likened to the United States finding trouble in its region- in Cuba. Such precedents are not uncommon in world events. It seems to me that if the Islamic world is in such turmoil as to destabilise the region, again the Russian response is no surprise.

I suppose that if we accept the ungovernable state of Afghanistan we should be looking for some kind of alternative rather than for the rhetorical abuse which has categorised the approach of the Prime Minister and of the Government to this question. If the Soviet Union were to leave Afghanistan it is quite possible that turmoil could be the order of the day, and I put to the House that we should seriously be thinking of how that particular vacuum should be filled. It would not be unreasonable to contend that the United Nations, at the request of an Australian government, should be setting about an examination of the situation in that country to ascertain the extent to which destabilisation is the order of the day. If a fact-finding mission were to establish that the Government of Afghanistan was incapable of sustaining peace in the region it is well within the realms of possibility that a United Nations peace keeping force could be sent to that country to fill the vacuum.

The Australian Government, in my view, is playing with a very dangerous situation indeed. I was interested to see the trade figures that prevail between the Soviet Union and Australia. We see our present Prime Minister plodding away at the great Russian bear, I suppose secretly and privately hoping that the bear will not be aroused and will not make any attempt to strike back. If it did so, the Australian economy could virtually be put into the danger zone at will. I note from the Australian Financial Review of 24 January this comment:

The stakes involved are large in cash terms. This year with the big wheat contracts already signed with the USSR, Australian exports to Russia will probably exceed $600m but imports from Russia will amount to less than S 10m.

That is the kind of critical balance of trade situation with which we are playing. As I say, if there were any attempt on the part of the Soviet Union to take reprisals against Australia our economy could be swept into an oblivious state virtually overnight. There has been a lot of nonsense and ballyhoo about this business. We are sick of the warmongering and exploitative attitude of this Prime Minister, who is mainly intent on covering up his own deficiencies by distracting the people from the economic failures of his Government. I say on behalf of the Opposition that there should be a more moderate role. We say that we should condemn the Soviet Union but that we should be rational in our approach to wild expenditure and certainly in the preservation of our favourable trading balance with one of our great trading partners.

Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.







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