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Thursday, 21 February 1980
Page: 222


Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) - I certainly agree with the motion that is now before the House; that is, that the amendment should be agreed with. The House has spent some eight hours debating the matter of Afghanistan over the course of yesterday and the day before and it will spend some hours debating the matter today. It is worth mentioning that this is an important matter. Certainly nobody in the Australian Labor Party decries the importance of the issue, but the Labor Party is also very conscious that this is the start of the first session of the Parliament in 1 980 which happens to be an election year. The Labor Party is also very conscious of the shortcomings in the domestic economy. We know that we have massive unemployment which is showing no indication of declining. We know that we have rising inflation. We know that the cost of living is rising. We know that interest rates are bound to rise. The Treasurer (Mr Howard) agrees with that and says that he cannot do anything about it. We know that petrol prices are astronomical. They are artificially high because of the policies of this Government.

Knowing all those things it would be reasonable, I would think, to expect the Government to pay some attention to these matters that are having an effect on the people of Australia rather than whipping up hysteria about a set of circumstances some thousands of kilometres away which may have an effect on the Australian people. It would seem to me that the Government, as is usual, has its priorities wrong or else the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), knowing that he is in diabolical trouble at home, as the polls tell him, has gone on a gate crashing exercise around the world, embarrassing those he has visited. Obviously they did not want to invite him but he arrived on their doorsteps. Not only did he do that but then he had a second bite at the United States of America and was so effectual while he was doing this that meetings of very prominent statesmen around the world were organised. Prominent statesmen were invited and the prominent statesman, the Prime Minister of Australia, in inverted commas, was not invited. Obviously the whole thing is an exercise of cynicism to distract the minds of the Australian electorate away from the real problems that are besetting them.

The Prime Minister's comments just do not ring true. I sat and listened to them, with other honourable members, when the statement was delivered. I was pretty confused when it was finished. I read the statement that had been handed around and was even more confused. I thought that if I had a good night's sleep and read it in Ilansard the next day, what the Prime Minister was driving at would become apparent to me, but it did not. Comparing the Prime Minister's statement with Lewis Carroll's book Alice in Wonderland, the book reads like a cold, hard recitation of facts compared with the crazy situations that the Prime Minister managed to imagine. I heard him, along with the honourable member for Lalor (Mr Barry Jones) and other honourable members at a function to honour the Japanese Prime Minister which was held in Melbourne, make much the same sort of comment about the Soviet Union's attempt to corner the world supply of oil from Iran, to lock that on" from the Western nations and to control the Persian Gulf. To his credit, the Japanese Prime Minister distanced himself from that position and made no such mention.

If what the Prime Minister is saying is true and if he is going to talk to us about the Soviet Union's making every endeavour to corner the world's oil supplies by moving into Afghanistan, then I suggest he ought to buy an atlas and have a look at it. Afghanistan is a land-locked country.

It has no sea ports. It is a very poor country. It has a population of somewhere around 18 million people. It has an illiteracy rate of somewhere around 90 per cent. The infant mortality rate is about 50 per cent. The best I can find out about its per capita income is that it is $ 1 60 per annum. Half of the arable land is owned by 5 per cent of the population, they being the wealthy aristocrats and, in most cases, religious leaders. The country is certainly no prize by anybody's standards; certainly not by our standards.

I must also point out that geographically Afghanistan is surrounded by the Soviet Union. It borders with China, India, Pakistan and Iran. If the tactic of the Soviet Union were to take over the oilfields in Iran, which incidentally also has a common border with the Soviet Union, it would seem to me a very devious way of going about it. As the Prime Minister stated in this Parliament- I have no reason to doubt the right honourable gentleman's words- the Soviet Union has a nuclear capacity equal to that of the United States, more conventional arms than the United States and an enormous army of men. It would seem to me that if the aim of the Russians was to take over the oil and to get access to the warm water of the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean, surely the most direct way to do that would be to go into Iran, not to fiddle around in Afghanistan. Clearly that is not the aim of the Soviet Union. I do not believe that the people who are responsible for making decisions in the Soviet Union are all lunatics. Obviously the Prime Minister does. Quite clearly any assault by the Soviet Union on Iran would precipitate a third world war. The people who make the decisions there are not crazy enough to take that sort of stance.

It is incredible that the Prime Minister now suddenly finds that there are Russian troops in Afghanistan when, in fact, they have been there since 1978. As far back as 1973, after some 40 years of despotic dictatorship, there were subsequent coups which were always labelled by the United States Press in particular as a sign that Afghanistan was lurching to the Left. What the hell that means I do not know. I do not think that the journalist who wrote it knows. It is fairly good propaganda, if one is going to disparage the Soviet Union. It does seem to involve double standards when we come to reporting events like that. For example, now that there are armed Russians in Afghanistan we find that they are resisted by some local people, rebels if you like, and that they are held out as freedom fighters. Right next door in Iran where there is a similar set of circumstances- there was a coup therethere are armed men fighting against the Government, but those people are nameless insurgents.

Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.


Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) -To continue the remarks I was making prior to the suspension of the sitting, it would seem that from all accounts of the current position the Prime Minister of Australia has egg on his face already. His blustering attitude on this whole question can only bring further egg to his face. I think the nation is well aware, following the response by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) to the Prime Minister's address, of the difference between the sensible world statesmanlike approach that was taken by the Leader of the Opposition, in an endeavour to analyse the situation and see some reason in it, without thrusting his views upon the Australian community, and the attitude of the tourist Prime Minister who went around the world, huffing and puffing to all the world's leaders about this matter and who was not very well received.

Nobody would condone, and certainly the amendment moved by the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) does not do so, the action of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. However the Afghanistan situation cannot be seen in isolation from the whole history of world events, and certainly latter day history since the Second World War. I recall the bumbling attitude of the American Central Intelligence Agency, and its influence in places like Cuba, Vietnam, Chile, Iran and many others. I recall the propensity of the United States Government to prop up puppet regimes in countries that finally fell by the will of the people within those countries, because the oppressed rose up against those who were oppressing them. This inevitably brought the consequential response from the world Press; when the oppressed rose they were simply labelled as communists.

The main thrust of the Prime Minister's address seems to centre around the boycotting of the Olympic Games in Moscow this year. He did not mention this specifically but he raises it continually. He keeps on drawing an analogy between the Moscow Games and the Olympics that were held in Berlin in 1936. He tries to draw some comfort from the events that flowed with the effluxion of time after those Games in 1936. He keeps taking us back to the point as if the Olympic Games in Berlin in 1936 triggered off the Second World War. Even a casual student of history would know that to be demonstrably untrue and false. In the same way nobody really believes that the holding of the Olympic Games in Moscow in 1980 will trigger off a Third World War- that is, nobody except the Prime Minister and those who sit behind him, especially those who are in marginal seats and, like the Prime Minister, realise that there are going to be a lot of seats lost in this election. They are seeking desperately for an election issue. The Prime Minister is trying, by sabre rattling, flag waving and jingoism, to bring about a khaki election. It just will not work because the Australian community is far more versed in world affairs than the Prime Minister.

To return to the Games, the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) has been acutely embarrassed in this chamber over the last two days by the probing questions of the Opposition. We have exposed the double standards applied by this Government. Our young athletes, who have an opportunity only once every four years to demonstate their prowess against the world's best, are told: 'You will stay home'. The Minister for Home Affairs (Mr Ellicott) was quite blunt about this. He said that if the Government said that then the athletes and the Olympic Federation would fall into line, or else. He has again selected a group of people who are not in a very strong position to fight back. As I have just said, they have only one occasion in every four years to demonstate their prowess, whereas the farmers of this country, the grain growers, have a crop every year. Those who produce wool increase the size of their flocks every year and those who produce hides increase the size of their herds every year, and so they get a financial return every year.

But what happens when it is said to the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony), the Leader of the National Country Party, that if the Government is quite sincere in endeavouring to do something to injure the Soviet Union it ought to consider very seriously boycotting any sales of any commodity at all to the Soviet Union? Of course, he suggested this initially in the whole kerfuffle early this year before the Parliament met but he backed off very quickly when the grain growers and wool growers told him what they thought of him. Then the Prime Minister measured the size of his own clip at Nareen. He realised he would need to sell that and he found that the best place to sell it was to the Russian buyers. So double standards are being applied. The athletes of Australia are being chosen as those who will become the Prime Minister's front line weapon against this dreadful Soviet Union.

This is a demonstration of his paranoia about Russia. That paranoia has been demonstrated for as long as he has been Prime Minister, and for many years prior. Like all conservatives, he is endeavouring to live in the past, to live back in the 1950s and 1960s, when there was the hysteria of the Cold War, and all that went with it, and McCarthyism. He is endeavouring to resurrect this as an election issue. It is just not going to work. As I have already said, the Australian people are too well informed to agree with that sort of nonsense.


Mr Martin - One could say they are being hypocritical.


Mr Keith Johnson (BURKE, VICTORIA) -Yes. If I were allowed to use that word in the House I would use it, but I am not. The Prime Minister ought to demonstrate his sincerity. He ought to back right away from the question of any boycott of the Olympics in Moscow and follow the world statesmanlike attitude of the newly elected Prime Minister of Canada, Pierre Trudeau, who, upon his election, was quite unequivocal. The Parliament of Europe has expressed a view on this but the sovereign States that make up that Parliament have not said the same thing. So this leaves Australia and the United States of America at the present moment, standing like the last two wrinkles on the elephant's what's-its-name, maintaining a position that is untenable to the rest of the world. The Prime Minister is trying to make our very fine Olympic athletes some sort of weapon in his front line fight against the Soviet Union. I would implore him to change his direction. There is nothing to be gained from that stance. The Australian community does not agree with him. All of the polls that have been held show that about three quarters of the Australian people believe our athletes should go to Moscow and should compete. He is out of step with the Australian community and he is out of step with the world community.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (MrMillarOrder! The honourable member's time has expired.







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