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Wednesday, 20 February 1980
Page: 137


Mr COHEN (Robertson) -When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan the Australian Labor Party joined with the Government in condemning the outrageous interference and aggression towards that country.


Mr Roger Johnston - How about invasion?


Mr COHEN - I will say invasion if the honourable member so wishes. There can be no excuse or explanation for the Soviet Union's action- none whatsoever. We reject completely the legitimate spheres of influence philosophy that permit super powers to intervene in smaller neighbouring countries if the internal events in that country are not to the super power's liking. How this particular philosophy ever became acceptable is beyond my comprehension. It may be legitimate for any country, super powers included, to intervene if a neighbouring country indicates by its actions, military or political, that it has aggressive intentions towards its neighbour, but it has not the right to intervene just because it does not like the political philosophy or the political leadership of that country.

The aggression of the Soviet Union has served to remind us just what sort of country we are dealing with. It is a country in which basic human rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, the right to strike, free elections and a free Press are totally denied to its people. It has not hesitated to use brutal military force, as it did against Hungary and Czechoslovakia when it felt that one of its satellites was taking an independent line. Honourable members should make no mistake about the Opposition's resolve toward the Soviet Union. We hold it in deep, full and abiding contempt. When this recent outrage by the Soviet Union occurred and the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) called for embargoes and boycotts, our first reaction was that the Prime Minister really believed what he was saying about the Russians' aggression and was prepared to call upon all Australians to make sacrifices. Economic, cultural and sporting embargoes were to be imposed that would be shared equally by the Australian people.

At first we were told that there would be restrictions on the sale of wheat to Russia. This, we were told by the Sydney Sun, would 'hit Russia where it hurts'. The Sun called upon us to follow the United States even if it did damage our fragile economy. The Sun showed a little bit more backbone than one prominent member of the farming community whose first reaction on hearing that the United States would ban sales of wheat to Russia could not contain his joy. He forecast increased sales of Australian wheat as Russia sought to replace the wheat which was withdrawn by the United States.


Mr Baillieu - Do you support that?


Mr COHEN - I was driving to Canberra at the time. I nearly vomited when I heard that particular gentleman make the statement. The show of firm resolve by Australia, particularly the most virulent anti-communist section of the community, did not take long to fall apart within a few days of harvester rattling as someone gently reminded the Government that it was going to cost money, that it was going to cost dollars. Suddenly Government members discovered that they were not quite so outraged by Russian aggression as they had been before they found out what it was going to cost. The Prime Minister may have stiffened their backbones a little if he had told them that the cost of sacrificing wheat sales to the Soviet Union would be borne by the whole community and not just by the wheat farmers. The Government was prepared to fight to the last drop of the wheat farmers ' blood.

The next activity to feel the wrath of the Australian Government was the tourist industry. Russian cruise ships operating out of Australia were to cease their activities, but not, let it be noted, until the present season was over.


Mr Birney - That is sensible.


Mr COHEN - Yes, it is sensible. One minute we are accused of not taking a hard line against the Russians and are told that we should forget about the advantages of going to the Olympic Games, that we should react emotionally, and now members opposite are talking about being rational. What do they want?


Mr Baillieu -What did Keating say?


Mr COHEN -I do not know what the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating) said. I know what I am saying. I said that the cruise ships were not to stop until after the season was over. There is no doubt that by this time the Russian bear must have been shaking in its caves as the Australian koala roared its defiance. We will show those Russian so-and-so's what we think of them! Then into the act came that super patriot, the famous red-baiting Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the National Country Party (Mr Anthony). He informed us that wool could never be regarded as a strategic material. I wonder what the 80,000 Russians wore when they launched their attack into Afghanistan in a subzero winter; I suppose cotton jeans and safari suits, or maybe just jockstraps and slippers. Mr Anthony's view of strategic material was that it composed only those items that could be used directly- I stress the word 'directly'- for the production of military weapons.

Australia moved quickly to ban the export of rutile, which everybody knows is used in the production of titanium, a low weight, high strength material essential for military planes and missile heads. I understand that Australia exports less than a couple of million dollars worth of rutile to the Soviet Union. At last Australia had found something of strategic value to deny the Soviet aggressors. We waited with bated breath for news of the collapse of the Russian military machine but, lo and behold, within a matter of days rutile was to be withdrawn from the list of exports denied to the Soviet Union. At the same time as the Prime Minister was storming around the world rattling his gum leaves at the Russian bear, and talking about massive defence buildups and the reintroduction of conscription and, of course, the withdrawal of Australia from the Olympic Games, the sand mining companies, which have done more to damage the Australian environment than any other sector in history, had put pressure on the Government to withdraw the ban on rutile. The Australian public was informed that the rutile to be sold to Russia was used only for white paint- no doubt to paint the tanks white for their travels around Afghanistan in the winter snow. Nobody would know what the rutile was used for.

I cannot recall a greater act of treachery to the Australian people, and our allies the United States, than the selling of rutile to the Soviet Union. One would have to go back prior to World War II and Sir Robert Menzies 's selling of pig iron to Japan to find a greater act of treachery, the ultimate act of hypocrisy. While the Prime Minister and his colleagues were attempting to create a war hysteria as a prelude to the 1 980 election, as they talked about defence build-ups and conscription, they were merrily supplying the Russians with war materials that could be used against Australian and American troops, should it ever come to that. If that sounds over-dramatic, I would remind honourable members of the speech made by the previous speaker, the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton).

In a number of overseas papers it has been mentioned that West Germany, Canada and the United States are in an election year. So are we. None of those governments will go to the people with such an abysmal record of broken promises and economic failures as the present Australian Government. The Government that four years ago promised a return to boom times has totally failed the Australian people. Inflation is now into double digits and is rising, and unemployment is around half a million and will continue to rise as further school leavers register. Petrol prices are going through the roof as the Government uses world parity pricing as its excuse to rip-off thousands of millions of dollars from the Australian motorist. Public opinion polls have shown just how much trouble the Government is in with the electorate and how badly the Prime Minister needed an issue to take the economic mess that it had created off the front pages.

Finally, the Prime Minister came to the decision that the real Australian response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan would be to withdraw Australia from the Olympic Games in Moscow. The Australian Labor Party's view was that if a total boycott of the Games could be effected, or a near total boycott, it could certainly have some impact on informing ordinary Russians of the rest of the world's view of their action in Afghanistan. But for it to be effective it would have to be a near total boycott; that is, the independent countries of the world, particularly those which are significant sporting nations, should agree not to compete. These would have to include countries such as West Germany, France, Italy, Canada, Japan and China as well as the United States and Australia.

We can all recall that in 1976 some 39 African nations withdrew from the Olympic Games because of the New Zealand rugby team's involvement with South African rugby. In my view this was a ridiculous action by those countries at the time. They had absolutely no bearing on the Games other than to deny many talented African athletes the once in a lifetime opportunity to compete at the Games. I could never see the logic in punishing hundreds of their own athletes because of the irresponsible action of one sporting organisation, the New Zealand Rugby Board.

It is now history that the Montreal Games went ahead with the absence of the African athletes barely noticed. However, not only is it essential that the major sporting nations of the world boycott the Olympics but also that these same nations, including Australia, carry out trade and cultural boycotts as well. The Australian public simply will not buy the argument that the only people who should be forced to make a scarifice, to show contempt for the Russians, are Australian athletes. Initially, the reaction of the Australian public was the same as that of the Government, to boycott the Olympics. But as they saw the Government backtracking on every other embargo because it looked like losing money their support for the Government's view turned to contempt. They saw it as humbug and hypocrisy, and they are right.

Their attitude is now turning from contempt to anger as the Government goes further than just badgering the Australian Olympic Committee. Now it is telling the Olympic sponsors to withdraw their support. The Commonwealth Bank has pulled out as a sponsor. The Minister for Home Affairs (Mr Ellicott) has threatened to withdraw Australian Olympians' passports. What other interpretation can be placed on the statement by him that an Australian passport was a privilege and not a right? What a contemptible, arrogant statement by the Minister. Let me remind the House that in the days when the Minister's party was an ardent advocate of Australians playing sport with South Africa and the vicious attacks upon the Labor Party because of its argument that sport and politics did not mix, the Labor Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, made it clear that he would never stop Australians going abroad to play sport in South Africa. We would deny visas to South African teams wishing to play in Australia, but at no stage was it suggested that we would withdraw an Australian's passport to prevent him doing what he wished abroad. We certainly tried to discourage them but never refused them a passport.

Yesterday we heard the same Minister, in response to a question I asked the Prime Minister, give a reply that was frightening in its implications for the basic freedoms we take for granted in this country. In the question to the Minister I said:

Is the Prime Minister aware that 24 of the 26 international sporting federations have stated that they will not support a boycott of the Olympic Games in Moscow and that they will not sanction any rival games to the Olympics. Is he also aware that the general assembly of international federations has stated that it will not accede to an alternative games to the Olympics? Does he realise that, if the alternative international games he is advocating do proceed, all those who participate may be suspended from further international competition?

I will quote part of the Minister's reply. It was the Minister for Home Affairs who replied and not the Prime Minister. Mr Ellicott had this to say:

Over 30 nations in this world have already indicated that they would support such a boycott. The Government would expect that in that event the Olympic committees in those countries would fall behind the governments in those countries. I can assure the honourable member that if that occurred the Australian Government would certainly expect that the Australian Olympic Committee would fall well and truly behind the Government.

He went on to say:

I also remind honourable members of an important matter, that is, that in a country such as Australia there is only one body that can decide matters relating to international affairs, and that is the Federal Government. It is the Federal Government's duty and responsibility to make a decision on matters affecting Australia's security and international relations. If the Government makes such a decision it would expect everybody in the country to give it the attention it well deserves.

He is saying that no one denies the Federal Government's responsibility for international relations, but since when has this country, this Government, ever had the right to deny citizens of Australia where they travel abroad? It is a disgraceful statement by the Minister.







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