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Thursday, 20 October 1983
Page: 2014

Mr SNOW —I ask the Prime Minister: What is the Government's attitude to Prisoners of Conscience Week, which is being organised by Amnesty International this week?

Mr HAWKE —I am indebted to the honourable member for Eden-Monaro for his question . I am sure that in the answer I give-as distinct from others-I will be expressing the view of the whole House in regard to this matter. The Government applauds Amnesty International's initiative in organising the annual Prisoners of Conscience Week. This year the week, which is being observed internationally, including in Australia, seeks to draw attention to the plight of thousands of human rights activists who find themselves in prison around the world. Amnesty International is collecting signatures to a petition calling for a universal amnesty for all prisoners of conscience none of whom-it is important to note-has used or has advocated violence. Amnesty International hopes to obtain more than a million signatures to the petition and to present it to the Secretary-General of the United Nations just prior to the United Nations Human Rights Day on 10 September.

I remind the House that it is particularly appropriate that we pay special attention to human rights in 1983 as this year marks the 35th anniversary of the adoption by the United Nations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This Government-as I know does the Opposition-attaches strong priority to human rights issues and strongly supports Amnesty International's efforts to strengthen the expression of public concern in Australia on these issues. The Government co-operates closely with Amnesty International and is particularly appreciative of the information-gathering work done by it. I make the point, and again I know it is shared by members opposite from their experience of government, that it is often the case that non-government organisations in this area are often able to do things more effectively than are governments themselves.

We commend the petition calling for a universal amnesty for all prisoners of conscience. At a ceremony today in King's Hall, presided over by Senator Missen, the Chairman of the Australian Parliamentary Group of Amnesty International, a petition was signed by representatives of all parties represented in the Parliament. Honourable members will be aware that it has not been the practice of holders of the office of Prime Minister to sign petitions. However, I wish to asssociate myself with this cause, both as a citizen and as Prime Minister. Accordingly, in the presence of the Leader of the Opposition this afternoon I had the honour to light a candle of hope at the ceremony in King's Hall on behalf of imprisoned human rights activists.