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Thursday, 21 February 1980
Page: 243

Mr MacKELLAR (Warringah) (Minister for Health) - What we have just heard from the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr West) really amounts to nothing more nor less than an apologia for the Soviet Union. I regret that -

Mr West -That is rot.

Mr MacKELLAR -The honourable member may say that it is rot but if he reads the speech closely he will find that time after time the inference is there that it is quite understandable that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics should take the action it has.

I want to start my remarks by addressing myself to the motion moved by the Opposition as an amendment to the motion before the House. The motion of the honourable member for Adelaide (Mr Hurford) disputes the contention that Afghanistan is potentially the gravest threat to international peace and security since 1945. It is true that there have been other very serious crises in international relations during the post-war years involving the risk of nuclear confrontation. However, Afghanistan is a crisis of a different order. There, for the first time since the Second World War, the Soviet Union has used its own armed forces outside the Warsaw Pact area for expansionist purposes. Thus it has established a precedent that challenges the independence of all nations. Moreover, a Soviet lodgment in Afghanistan would threaten the security of the oil supplies in the Persian Gulf area on which the world's industrial economy depends. It is for those reasons and the consequences that would flow from them that the Soviet invasion so gravely threatens international peace and security.

The Opposition's amendment expresses concern at the possibility that the limitation of strategic arms might be abandoned and an uncontrolled arms race resumed. That of course is to be applauded, but the onus for the resumption of the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty talks rest squarely with the Soviet Union. Its oppressive policies at home and challenging behaviour abroad, culminating in the invasion of Afghanistan, have made the United States Senate ratification of SALT II politically impossible, and that will remain the case until the Soviets show restraint and draw back from aggression. The remedy is quite clearly in Soviet hands.

The Government has always recognised the serious problems in Australia's own region, and that is related to point 7 of the Opposition's amendment. In this region the Vietnamese are acting as willing agents of Soviet pressure. It is the Vietnamese- armed, encouraged and sustained by the Soviet Union- who have sought to reduce Laos and Kampuchea to satellite status, who more widely threaten regional peace and security, and who permit the Soviet Union's access to bases. Australia borders the Indian Ocean, where the repercussions of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan are acutely felt. Directly and indirectly, events in Afghanistan affect the security of our, region. The Government favours the establishment of a neutral and independent Kampuchea, free from great power rivalries. It considers that a negotiated settlement in which all interested parties are represented will be necessary to bring peace to Kampuchea. However, there is little prospect of successfully convening a conference on Kampuchea in the near future. Any proposal that was put forward prematurely and without adequate consultation would prove counter-productive.

As to the Opposition's claim that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) is employing double standards in relations to sanctions against the Soviet Union, the Government's interest is to identify measures that will effectively penalise the Soviet Union. There is no point in empty gestures that would be more damaging to Australia 's interests than to those of the USSR. A trade embargo would be costly to Australia because others would be likely to replace our trade and, as such, it would not affect the Soviet Union very much. A successful boycott of the Moscow Olympics would be very painful to the Soviet Union and would most effectively register with the Russian people international disapproval of Soviet aggression in Afghanistan. For those and other reasons, the Government cannot accept the amendment moved by the Opposition.

What the Opposition is attempting to do in this debate is to divert attention from the significance to the whole world- that very much includes Australia- of Russia's blatant aggression in Afghanistan. Instead of focussing on this point, it has attempted to muddy the waters by setting out reasons- one might even say excuses- for Russia's invasion of Afghanistan and has questioned the reasons for this Government's strong response to that invasion. The Opposition would have us believe that Russia's move into Afghanistan is of little significance to Australia and that our reactions should be framed accordingly. This position was spelt out graphically by the honourable member for Blaxland (Mr Keating), a man who sees himself as a future leader of the Australian Labor Party, when he said in Sydney in January, speaking of the Afghan crisis:

It is so far away from our area of interest and Australia is not threatened so we should leave it to the big powers.

Nobody in this House will forget the response of the honourable member for Kooyong (Mr Peacock) to the statement of the honourable member for Blaxland He drew very clear attention to that attitude, which coincided very closely with the words used by Neville Chamberlain to play down Hitler's invasion of Czechoslovakia. As honourable members will recall, Chamberlain referred to this blatant aggression as 'a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing'. That is very reminiscent of the words used by the honourable member for Blaxland.

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is a very serious matter indeed for Australia as it threatens international peace and security. The Soviet action challenges the independence of all nations. It has swept away the illusions of detente and has put beyond all doubt that the relaxation of international tensions depends on the USSR first showing restraint. The Soviet Union has taken advantage of the '-yearning for peace throughout the world- in the. form of detente- to promote its interests and expand its power ruthlessly. Russia has seen the United States' moves to reduce international tension as a sign of weakness and has sought to take' advantage of this. But now Russia has over-reached itself. Afghanistan has exposed for all to see the true character of Soviet ambitions and the utter cynicism of Soviet behaviour.

International reaction to this blatant aggression has been swift and impressive. Because of its actions in Afghanistan the Soviet Union has found itself internationally isolated. Its prestige and good standing has been shattered in the eyes of nations that it most wants to influence- the Third World and non-aligned countries. The warning is horrific, but it is also very valuable. It has put the Soviet Union on notice that it can no longer pursue expansionist policies over large areas of the world with impunity and that a high price must be paid for such totally unacceptable conduct. For all independent nations, Afghanistan has been salutory, because it has unambiguously pointed up the real threat to their independence. Having aroused them to the danger, Afghanistan also underlines the need for resolution over the long-term to match that of the Soviets, whose greatest asset is their persistence.

Unfortunately, as the Prime Minister pointed out on Tuesday, experience in earlier crises has demonstrated that the attention span of world opinion is limited and that what is initially regarded as outrageous can quite quickly become acceptable, if only in a spirit of resignation. That must not happen now. If Russia sees the storm of protest quickly blow itself out, then this experience has within it the seeds of disaster for us all.

The world's action against Russia's invasion of Afghanistan and steps to ensure that the USSR does not continue on its expansionist path must be led by the United States. The military power of the United States is vital in balancing and checking that of the Soviet Union. Russia's military might has grown persistently and rapidly to dangerously high levels and still continues to expand despite the USSR's past public endorsements of the concept of detente. The Western allies naturally look to the leadership of the United States as the most powerful among them in matching the Soviet challenge, and we should be heartened by the perceptible signs of resurgence of American will and determination after the twin traumas of Vietnam and Watergate.

At the same time there is recognition that American leadership must be sustained both by the willing support of its allies and by joint effort. In saying this, I am not advocating that we blindly follow the foreign policy course set by the United States. In this case we support America's position because we are in full agreement with its views and perceptions of the Afghanistan crisis. An essential part of our strategy must be to recognise how wide the common interest is in meeting the Soviet challenge, and to develop it accordingly. Thus Australia's response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan has been varied and many-sided. We have taken deliberate steps to limit bilateral relations with the Soviet Union; we have supported multilateral actions to register disapproval and penalise the Soviet Union, including in relation to grain sales and the Olympic Games; we have engaged in important and wide-ranging consultations with friends and allies; and we are taking concrete measures to enhance our defence and diplomatic efforts. We have reacted- but we have not over-reacted. Our response has been deliberate and thought through, based not on emotion, but on a detailed assessment of the facts. Australia, while limited in its power and population, has an important contribution to make, particularly within its region.

The countries of the Indian sub-continent and the South East Asia region are now experiencing the effects of Soviet expansionist pressure, directly or obliquely. What they think and feel, and how they react in this situation, is of vital concern to Australia because these countries constitute the permanent foreground of our foreign policy. We have consulted them closely about the implications of Afghanistan, and of other disturbing pressures in the region. As honourable members would expect, perceptions of the situation and their mode of expression vary, in keeping with the different interests, style and identity of the individual countries. But despite these differences it is strikingly evident that the brutal and undisguised Soviet invasion of Afghanistan has sent Shockwaves through the region, as indeed it has right throughout the international community. The Soviet account of events in Afghanistan is simply not accepted in the region. Soviet forces did not invade Afghanistan and kill its procommunist President to guard against some unsubstantiated external threat. They were forced to secure a regime that would immediately collapse without Soviet support because it is hateful to the Afghan people. Since the April 1978 coup in Kabul, Soviet propaganda about external interference in Afghanistan has had the cynical purpose of excusing and justifying the harshness of the new communist order. It is now clear that it had the additional purpose of paving the way for direct Soviet intervention intended to replace an intractable client ruler with another more pliable puppet. In a most dangerous extension of the Brezhnev doctrine of limited sovereignty of Soviet allies to a Third World country, it also aimed to reduce Afghanistan to satellite status, in keeping with Soviet action elsewhere.

For the regional countries, as for Australia, debates about Soviet motives are less relevant than is coming to terms with the consequences of the Soviet action, which has driven a wedge into a strategically sensitive area. By invading Afghanistan, the Soviets have brought themselves hundreds of kilometres closer to the Indian Ocean and into a situation in which they can bring pressure to bear simultaneously on the sub-continent and on oil producing areas of the Gulf. The advance of the Soviet presence into that region has already created destabilising pressures. It will also afford the Soviet Union rich opportunities to advance its interests by means of subversion and, if the Soviets think circumstances allow, by direct intervention.

Developments in Afghanistan bear most directly on the Indian sub-continent, where there is a risk that they may stimulate old animosities and create new problems. India's perspectives and its interests differ appreciably from those of Pakistan. I would not deny the importance of this situation, the complications that it could breed and the risk that it might divert attention from the central issue of Soviet expansionism. Pakistan is in an exposed position and has a legitimate claim to assistance from its friends, including Australia. We have discussed with President Zia the possibility of increasing our economic assistance to Pakistan. At the same time, we recognise that the response to Pakistan's needs should take due account of Indian sensitivities. Pakistan sees itself as directly threatened by developments in Afghanistan, whereas India fears that its security will be jeopardised by the arming of Pakistan. In these circumstances, steps to strengthen the security of Pakistan should be such as not to arouse unnecessary Indian apprehension. The highest importance attaches to sustaining a dialogue between India and Pakistan that will provide mutual reassurance. India and Pakistan share a basic interest in insulating the sub-continent from great power rivalry. It is to be hoped that they will build on this interest.

The invasion of Afghanistan is not seen as an isolated episode. In the minds of regional leaders, it is clearly linked with events elsewhere, particularly in Kampuchea where the Vietnamese occupation of that country depends on the massive volume of supplies provided by the Soviet Union, mainly in the form of arms and equipment. Kampuchea and Afghanistan are both regarded as points of Soviet strategic pressure on the region, and the Soviet capability to administer pressure in widely distant areas is seen to afford the Soviets important strategic flexibility. On the part of some Association of South East Asian Nations countries there is concern that the situation in Afghanistan might be allowed to overshadow the continuing seriousness of the problems affecting Kampuchea.

The strong position taken by the Australian Government on Russia's invasion of Afghanistan has been criticised in some quarters as being inconsistent with our reaction to Indonesia's actions in East Timor. That is not the case. What these critics fail to acknowledge is the fact that this Government strongly criticised Indonesia's actions.

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