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Thursday, 6 March 1980
Page: 681

Senator MISSEN (Victoria) -I have great pleasure in taking the opportunity to speak on the report of the Sub-committee on Human

Rights in the Soviet Union, which is a subcommittee of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence. I do not speak as one of the members of the Sub-committee or as a member of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, but perhaps I can speak with slightly more freedom by reason of that fact. I certainly have watched with a great deal of interest the development of the report and the examination which led up to its preparation. I think that we can all join in the pride which the Committee and the people who produced the report must feel. I believe that it is a truly distinguished document, a finely produced report; one which is very clear, which contains a great deal of factual material and which will serve for a long time as a useful guide here and abroad on matters relating to the Soviet Union.

I certainly watched the activities of the Subcommittee when I was chairman of the Amnesty group in the period when evidence was being taken and I noted the distinguished people who were called from abroad to give evidence before the Committee. They certainly included people who had every reason to know what was going on. The material I have includes the transcript of evidence, over 1,000 pages in length, which formed a very important basis for the recommendations which the Committee was able to bring forward. I made a small contribution to that evidence but, as I said, the Committee really did have before it some very valuable people from abroad, people who lived in and experienced the Soviet Union and the practices of that country and who, I think, were able to give excellent evidence to the Committee.

I believe that the report has been received overseas with a great deal of satisfaction and delight. That it came from Australia, which is a country so far removed from the Soviet Union, indicates how widespread our interest is. We are not close to the Soviet Union, but at the same time we have shown that our interests are not narrow and that we are concerned with important issues of human rights. I agree with honourable senators who have asked: Why the Soviet Union? Certainly it is a country which sets itself up throughout the world as having an important part to play in the world. From time to time it makes declarations on human rights and endeavours to tell other countries how to practice their way of life. Consequently, I think it is a country which must be watched by all Western countries to see how it is developing.

I believe that the report has value, firstly, in the investigation which was undertaken. Even if the Sub-committee had not produced a report, the fact that the investigation took place, that people came here to give evidence and that witnesses to the Committee went around Australia and were heard by many audiences was valuable. It permitted a spreading of knowledge which I think was valuable. But apart from that, we have the report which, as I have said, provides a valuable collection of facts concerning a matter about which people often do not know. They hold a certain view that some very unpleasant things go on in the Soviet Union. But people in Australia generally are fairly uninformed of the details. They now have an opportunity to clarify their doubts.

The report will be important also if it leads to action being taken. That will lead me in the remarks I made tonight to talk mainly about the recommendations which the Committee has brought forward, some of which have not been mentioned already. I believe that if we debate and carry the motion, which is merely that the Senate take note of the report, that should be only the start. Surely, we should go on from that and ensure that the recommendations are put into effect. I hope that the Government's response to the report, which I do not think has been made yet, will indicate an intention to make a substantial effort to carry out the recommendations which the Committee has brought forward.

Tonight I say this about the actions of the Soviet authorities: We have heard of their insistence that no members of the Sub-committee of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence should be sent in a delegation to the Soviet Union. Of course, that is outrageous, but it indicates, not unsurprisingly, the attitude of those authorities who are determined that not too much information about what is going on is to get out to the Western world.

Senator Chipp - Is there any evidence of that?

Senator MISSEN -Yes, I believe so. The Chairman of the Sub-committee, Senator Wheeldon, nods his head to indicate that that is so.

Senator Georges - What did you expect?

Senator MISSEN - I would expect no more than that, of course.

Senator Georges - I suppose we will allow the Soviet Union to send a delegation to us to examine our human rights! That would be absolutely crazy.

Senator MISSEN -It is all right for Senator Georges to say that; he must try to defend the indefensible in any situation. But really it is not surprising to me that the Soviet Union did what it did. But the fact is that we know what it has done. Members of that Sub-committee now join me in that group of people who no doubt are known as unacceptable- certainly we are persona non grata- to the Soviet authorities. I do not know about that, but I should think that they probably have joined me in that.

Senator Chipp - Senator, Iam not trying to score a point, but given that that is true and it is outrageous, is it not equally outrageous that the Government did not inform both political parties of that injunction?

Senator MISSEN - Yes, I think it is outrageous that the parties did not know about that. I think that that ought to have been known by them. They should have known that when they were deciding whether they would send people on a delegation. That point has been made here tonight and I agree with it. But the fact is that that happened. The fact is that the Soviet Ambassador was given every opportunity, as were other persons, to come before the Committee and refute the evidence given before it. Much of the evidence given before the Committee was given in public. It was known that evidence was being given but the Soviet Ambassador chose not to give evidence. Therefore, I do not think much of the Embassy's repudiation of the Committee's report. I do not think much either of the dissent of three of the members of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Sub-committee, who complained that there was not enough evidence to give a balanced account. The account cannot be entirely balanced if some persons choose not to give evidence and not to refute evidence. One can only do one's best with what one has. I will come to that again when I speak on the recommendation of the Sub-committee with regard to the setting up of a committee and the views held on that subject.

There is a lot of material on this issue, not only the material contained in the transcript of evidence, but also other material which no doubt was known to members of the Committee. We know that, as mentioned by the Sub-committee in its report, material coming out of the Soviet Union included the Samizdat and other chronicles of current events. These are carefully produced, mainly by Amnesty International, from material which comes out from the Soviet Union recording, as it does, year after year the activities, the difficulties, the imprisonments and the trials of dissidents and other persons who in the Soviet Union are standing up- very often hardly known to the rest of the Russian peopleand are silently trying to do something for human rights or for their rights with regard to religion and cultural issues. There is a lot of documentation.

Only today I have been reading what I find to be an excellent account of the story of Father Dimitri Dudko. He is a member of the Russian Orthodox Church, not one of the dissident churches which perhaps have suffered the most attack. That man, who has become a very well recognised preacher and religious leader in the Soviet Union, has gone through a great deal of trouble. He has been taken away from Moscow and sent to the outskirts. In fact, at one stage he was run over by a heavy vehicle, apparently not by accident, and for some time was refused treatment in hospital. But he has managed to struggle on and, therefore, continues to preach and to gather around him people he can talk to about the simple, important moral issues of the day in the Soviet Union. He is just another example, of which there are many, of people in the Soviet Union who are working quietly and very often in an unrecognised way for rights which we accept here as being everyday and ordinary.

Already tonight reference has been made to a number of the recommendations made by the Committee. I will not go over in any detail those which have been mentioned. For example, there are the important recommendations with regard to immigration and encouraging immigration from the Soviet Union. There is also a recommendation concerning the United Nations documents and what the United Nations organisations ought to be encouraged to do to spread the knowledge of the various covenants and human rights documents inside the Soviet Union. There is also, of course, the recommendation contained in paragraph 48 of the report in respect of the matter of psychiatry, which we know has been a damnable activity of the Soviety authorities for a number of years now. Fortunately it is being picked up by psychiatrists in other countries. The recommendation states:

It is recommended that the Australian Government give consideration to seeking the establishment of a permanent, independent, international organisation to inquire into the abuse of psychiatry for political purposes.

I certainly applaud that recommendation. I trust that we will take very active steps to see that that is done. Recommendation 50 states:

It is recommended that the Australian Government make every use of appropriate opportunities to:

a.   give full support for the principles contained in the Final Act of the Helsinki Agreement.

That is not an Act to which we are bound. We are not signatories. But we have said that we applaud the various undertakings which the 35 powers at Helsinki agreed upon and which unfortunately the Soviet Union has so flouted since. The recommendation calls on us to join other democracies in protesting against repression in the Soviet Union and its failure to comply with the Agreement and to seek the release of people imprisoned in the Soviet Union for the very reason that they have tried to bring to their own country knowledge of its own laws, obligations and undertakings under that pact. We must do something as a country in that respect. Recommendation 58 states:

It is recommended that in the course of bilateral discussions or negotiations with the USSR, the Australian Government take the opportunities that arise to state its disapproval of Soviet breaches of human rights. Similarly this can be done by individual Australians during cultural, academic and scientific exchanges with the Soviet Union.

Those people could do a lot more than they have been doing in the past. When they meet their peers in their own professions they ought to make clear the attitude we hold on this subject.

Senator Georges - They do and they are able to.

Senator MISSEN -Some of them do. The honourable senator says dogmatically that they do. I will not be dogmatic and answer him by saying that they do not.

Senator Georges - You have been dogmatic for the last 1 0 minutes.

Senator MISSEN - I am not being dogmatic. I am referring to the clear and firm recommendations of the Sub-committee. If they sound dogmatic to the honourable senator, I am sorry that he thinks that they are so. I am saying that we could do more. Many people go overseas to look around. I make this point not as the chairman of the parliamentary branch of Amnesty International- I no longer hold that positionbut as the vice-chairman. Although it is a little irrelevant at this stage, I mention that Mr Barry Jones is now the chairman of the parliamentary Amnesty group and Mr Barry Simon is the secretary. They are both members of the House of Representatives. Senator Ruth Coleman and I have retired to the position of vice-chairmen. Because of my connection with Amnesty I know that many people go abroad, enjoy a nice holiday and look at the things that are pleasant. They do not take with them their own culture and beliefs and make any effort to promote their ideas when they are abroad. They could well do so.

Paragraph 60 recommends that in the United Nations our representatives should raise human rights issues. This is important in relation to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights of which we are a member. That body is not nearly good enough. It is too slow in going about the job of investigating the complaints which come before the world. We need to be more radical and dogmatic in relation to those matters at that Commission.

Senator Wheeldon - Do we have a permanent representative on the Human Rights Commission?

Senator MISSEN -I think we do but I am not quite sure whether it is always the same person. We certainly have permanent staff there who report regularly. I believe that other recommendations of the Committee are excellent. I wish to make a comment on the issue which has been slightly divisive tonight. I refer to recommendation 62 relating to the Olympic Games. For a couple of years now I have been carrying stickers on my cars stating 'No Soviet Games without Human Rights'. I believe that the case for a boycott of the Olympic Games was made out a long time ago. It has been accentuated in recent times by the Soviet action in Afghanistan in the Olympic year but I believe that the case was always there. I indicated by interjecting on Senator Martin that I believe that most of the people in the Jewish community also hold this view. Eighteen months ago I addressed a rally in Melbourne of about 1,500 people, mostly from the Jewish community, and they unanimously urged the boycott of the Games. Since the Soviet Union was given the Games it has gone further and further into the mire in relation to the actions it has taken against those people who have been trying to defend human rights. We know by recent example that people will be taken out of Moscow during the Games and that they will suffer because the Games are to be held there. They are people who want to defend human rights in the Soviet Union.

I turn to another recommendation which I believe is of great importance in regard to this matter. Recommendation 65 states that a standing committee on human rights should be established. I recognise that some members of the Sub-committee have dissented from this recommendation. I for one cannot stand with the dissent. The dissenting views are set out on page 161 of the report. Senator Sim and Senator Young have both said:

While accepting that the denial of human rights in any country is to be deplored, inquiries by the parliament of one country into the affairs of any other country have implications which can be detrimental to external relations with countries which have different political systems, traditions, cultures and attitudes.

I have heard that view expressed so often. I have heard it every time we have managed to get our government to make a complaint to Singapore, Malaysia or any other country. Of course we will receive a reply that the matter is an internal affair. Relations may be upset. The things that we have been doing in the last few years may upset relations with Indonesia. But that is no reason why we, as one of the few democracies in the world, should not proceed to investigate. The last recommendation of the report suggests that our investigation should go way beyond the Soviet Union and the position in that country with regard to human rights. It means that having investigated so deeply the position in one country, a committee of the Parliament ought to be established to investigate violations of human rights which arise in various countries and which are of relevance to our foreign relations with those countries.

Mr Shortalso had reservations with regard to this recommendation. He said:

Although I concur with the obvious sentiment behind this recommendation, I consider that such a committee rarely would be able to gain access to all the information and witnesses who would be necessary if the Committee were to conduct its investigations in a professional and useful manner.

So what? Of course it will not be possible to get access to all the information. That will never happen. But unless we pry for information and unless we provide a forum for investigation we will not get anywhere. Just because we cannot be 100 per cent successful is no reason why we should not go ahead and try to get as much information as we can on the subject and thereby inform the Parliament ant the people of Australia about it. I believe, therefore, that the dissent has been misconceived and that the recommendation is a good one.

I believe that while we have in the Parliament an organisation such as the Amnesty group which, of course, would be able to work with such a committee, suggest and supply witnesses and co-operate with the working of such a committee, it is desirable that there be a committee of the Parliament which has an immediate concern for human rights. It would not be able to raise the matter in all countries. It could not take up more than a fraction of the instances of violations of human rights throughout the world. But it could take up those which are particularly relevant to Australia and which concern us. In such cases our foreign policies might well be mistaken because we have not taken sufficient notice of the human rights component of such policies. I have come to the conclusion not only that the report is a fine one which deserves the commendation of the Parliament and close consideration by members of the public, but also that its recommendations should be brought into effect. But it also wants to see and ought to see its recommendations brought forward and brought into effect. I will certainly do what I can to urge that at every opportunity and chance I have. I therefore congratulate the Committee and those who have taken part, including the Secretary of the Committee, who is here and who has been so dedicated to its work. I believe that this Parliament owes it to that Committee to see that its recommendations are brought into fruition.

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