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Tuesday, 8 November 1977
Page: 3026

Mr McLEAN (PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - I direct my question to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Has the Government any intention of according de jure recognition to the incorporation of the Baltic States into the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics? Is the Minister aware of concern being expressed by members of the Baltic communities in Australia that the Labor Party has not changed its attitude in regard to de jure recognition?

Mr PEACOCK (KOOYONG, VICTORIA) (Minister for Foreign Affairs) -I am aware of the concern of many members of the Baltic community about the attitude of the Labor Party on this matter. I have to say that there is in writing considerable justification for that concern. I think that one of the most profligate purveyors of policy the Labor Party has ever had is Mr David Combe. In a letter dated 22 August of this year he wrote to a prominent member of the Baltic community in a manner which shows that the Labor Party has learnt nothing from its irresponsible action in recognising incorporation in 1974. Indeed, Mr Combe's letter, in offensive and even abusive terms, casts a slur on the people of the Baltic States. In the letter he describes as 'a stupid deception' the attitude that Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania are not legally part of the Soviet Union. In 1974 his leader- the present Leader of the Opposition- described it as a cruel deception. What was a cruel deception in 1974 becomes a stupid deception in the words of Mr Combe. The particular interest of this letter is that Mr Combe seeks to excuse his leader and lay the blame for the grievous error at the door of a senior public servant, Sir James Plimsoll. In his letter Mr Combe states:

It was of course Sir James, not Mr Whitlam, who initiated the proposal to recognise reality.

That tactic, frankly, is contemptible. Members of the Baltic community know who was responsible for the decision of the then Government. The Leader of the Opposition knows who was responsible. Indeed the Foreign Minister in the previous Government, Senator Willesee, knows who was responsible and knew at the time. Senator Willesee was, at best, only a reluctant defender of the Prime Minister, as he had reason to be, as the decision was taken during his absence overseas. It was only by dint of continued and consistent effort by members of the then Opposition, the present Liberal-National Country Party Government, that the facts were dragged out of the then Prime Minister.

The decision to recognise the incorporation of the Baltic states became public knowledge only when a Press report out of Moscow- not an official Government statement to the Parliament, not a Government Press release- disclosed the fact one month after the decision by the Prime Minister in Canberra and nearly three weeks after the Australian Embassy in Moscow had been informed. The Australian people had no reason to suspect that such a decision would be taken. The members of the Baltic community in Australia were treated rudely and with utter contempt. Mr Combe's letter shows that nothing has changed.

I turn now to the first part of the question which seeks in a comparitive form the action that the present Government took. On 17 December 1975, just four days after the present Government was elected to office, it instructed the Australian Ambassador in Moscow that he and members of his staff should not in future make official visits to Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Mr McComas the Honorary Consul for Latvia in Australia prior to the Labor Government's decision, was informed that he could resume his functions as Honorary Consul. We executed our duty to move away from de jure recognition. That was done within a matter of days of election to government. In short, the Government said very quickly and very effectively that it did not accept the legality of the Soviet annexation of the Baltic states. This remains the situation. The Government's policy will not change after 10 December.

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