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Tuesday, 26 February 1980
Page: 372

Mr MacKELLAR (Warringah) (Minister for Health and Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs) - I wish to move two amendments to the motion moved by the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman). not because I disagree with the motion but because the Government does not think that it goes quite far enough. I seek leave to move the two amendments together.

Leave granted.

Mr MacKELLAR - I move:

(   1 ) Omit paragraph ( 1 ), substitute the following paragraph:

(1   ) views with grave concern the continuing policies of the Government of the USSR which deprives its citizens of basic human rights including rights to freedom of emigration, to freedom of religion, to freedom of information, to freedom of speech and to freedom of political and trade union organisation;.

(2)   Omit paragraph (5), substitute the following paragraph:

(5)   strongly believes that every effort should be made to continue to bring home to the Soviet Government the belief of other nations that human rights should be respected, including the rights of minorities such as the Jews, and the rights of political dissidents to express their views and requests the Government to transmit this resolution to the Government of the USSR.

The Government welcomes the opportunity afforded by this debate to examine the general question. (Quorum formed). As I was saying, I should like to begin by commending the members of the Sub-committee on Human Rights in the Soviet Union, a sub-committee of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, for the thoroughness and clearsightedness of their report. I should also like to point out that the sub-committee was made up of both Government and Opposition members. The report is not a party political document. It presents a graphic picture of the systematic abuse of the basic human rights of sections of Soviet society and stands as an indictment of the Russian authorities. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republic's invasion of Afghanistan and the attempted subjugation of that country's people fully supports the report's observations. The report clearly demonstrates the abuse of human rights that have occurred and continue to occur in the USSR. It demonstrates that systematic and deliberate violations of human rights occur as a matter of course in the Soviet Union. The report's recommendations are under active consideration by the Government, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) will report to Parliament on them in due course.

As with the speaker who preceded me, I am sure that other speakers in this debate will present information giving further support to the report's findings. Because of this I do not propose to confine my remarks tonight to the Soviet Union's bleak human rights record. In adopting this stance, I remind honourable members that the report before the House particularly noted at paragraph 10.47 that:

The effect of any such pressure on the Soviet Union will be diminished insofar as similar denials of human rights in friendly countries are not likewise exposed by critics of the Soviet Union.

However, before proceeding I should like to add my voice to those who have deplored the internal exile of Dr Andrei Sakharov. As the Government has made clear to the Soviet authorities, we regard this latest act of persecution as a further example of their flagrant disregard of the human rights principles embodied in the United Nations instruments and in the 1975 Helsinki Accords. (Quorum formed). It should be emphasised that Dr Sakharov's fate is only the latest example of such action by the Soviet authorities. Over many years they have arrested, exiled to distant pans of the USSR, or expelled to the West a number of dissidents. It is true that a country's peculiar economic, social, cultural and historical circumstances need to be taken into account when considering that country's record in the field of human rights. But it is equally true that there are some basic rights which must be accorded to the citizens of any country no matter what the circumstances. That is why the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the covenants which have sprung from it make it clear that violations of human rights are the concern of all mankind, not just the Government and people of the country in which those violations occur.

The Australian Government fully supports this principle. It is therefore concerned about infringements of human rights wherever they occur. Because of this, we are working to improve international machinery for protecting human rights and to promote support for the human rights standards set out in international instruments. Australia is currently a member of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights and will be seeking re-election for a second three-year term when its current term expires at the end of this year. We are confident that this bid for re-election will be successful. The Commission on Human Rights is the principal body within the United Nations for the consideration of human rights questions. As well as examining reported violations in particular countries, it sets international standards for promoting human rights. The thirty-sixth session of the Commission is currently meeting in Geneva. Its busy agenda includes proposals to set standards in relation to torture and other inhumane treatment, the rights of the child and religious intolerance. Australia is participating actively in these deliberations as the Government believes that the human rights of mankind generally can be advanced by the enactment and subsequent observation of such international standards.

In recent times there has been encouraging evidence that regimes which persistently violate their citizens' rights eventually pay the price for so doing. Examples that immediately spring to mind are countries such as Nicaragua, Uganda and the hitherto self-styled Central African Empire.

Mr Baume - There are only five Labor members present.

Mr Scholes -Mr Deputy Speaker,I take a point of order. The honourable member for Macarthur (Mr Baume) has drawn your attention to the state of the House. I think you should acknowledge that.

Mr Baume - I did not.

Mr Scholes - You did so.

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