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Tuesday, 13 August 1974
Page: 776

Senator WITHERS - My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I ask: Will the Minister give an undertaking that the Russian violinist Georgi Ermolenko will be given the fullest opportunity for such period as he, Ermolenko, requires, being, say, not less than 24 hours, to consider free from duress and improper pressures and with the help of advisers of his choice whether he wishes to remain in Australia? Further, will the Minister take such action as may be necessary to prevent pressures being brought upon Mr Ermolenko by officials of the Russian Embassy?

Senator WILLESEE (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) (Minister for Foreign Affairs) -I think, answering the last part of the honourable senator's question that I have already done that. However, because of the interest being shown in this matter I think I should run over briefly for Senator Withers and other interested people what the situation is up to this time. On Sunday Mr Ermolenko, an 18 year old who has been visiting Australia with other Russians to participate in a music festival in Perth, went to the Perth Airport to leave this country. Mr Ermolenko, who does not speak

English very well, then said that he did not want to leave. He was taken to a non-public area of the airport terminal by the Immigration Officer on duty. It was then agreed that he would stay in Australia and talk to the Department of Labor and Immigration on Monday morning. He left the airport in the care of the sub-warden of St George's College of the University of Western Australia. The remainder of the party decided not to catch the plane. Professor Kabalevsky, who is a very noted composer and who is in charge of the group, and Mr Alexandroff, a clerk at the Soviet Embassy in Canberra, sought to talk to Mr Ermolenko on Sunday night, but he indicated that he did not wish to talk to them at that time.

On Monday Mr Ermolenko contacted Professor Kabalevsky at the Parmelia Hotel and arranged to see him at 1 1 o'clock after he had an interview with an official from the Department of Labor and Immigration. After talking to Professor Kabalevsky he decided that he wanted to go back to Russia. A note on where things stood was prepared for me when I arrived by plane in Canberra at 5 o'clock yesterday. The group went to the airport again last night to leave this country. My information was that they were refused entry to the plane on which they were to travel because their visas for Singapore were not in order. I understand that one is allowed to stay in Singapore for 24 hours without a visa, but the group intended to stay there for 40 hours. For this reason they were not permitted to board the aircraft.

I understand that some sort of demonstration was mounted, mainly by members of the Transport Workers Union and the clerks union. I was in contact with the officer of my Department in Perth during the evening. I noticed in this morning's Press that Professor Callaway indicated that he felt that this young man wanted to go back to Russia. He said also that the young man was quite relaxed, and this was the view of my officer. But because of the doubt raised in Senator Withers' question and because very obviously this action raises some doubts as to whether Mr Ermolenko is under duress from one side or the other, I asked the department officer in Perth to speak to him again this morning to arrange a meeting today. In the meantime I have been told that 2 lawyers, one representing some university students and the other representing Amnesty, are taking an interest in the matter. I anticipated that a question would be asked on this matter and therefore I have jotted down the names of some of the people who will be attending this meeting. Apparently Mr Hollingsworth, the secretary of the Australian Journalist's Association of Western Australia will be present. I have asked whether he would be kind enough to attend because I do not want a situation in which there will be a battery of television cameras and a lot of questions asked of an 18-year old who is in a strange country. Representatives of the two unions involved will be there also.

Last night I gave instructions that the 2 lawyers involved were to be given every facility that could be given to them. They will be invited to be there. I tried to get another Foreign Affairs man over to Perth but the fog in Canberra this morning put paid to that little exercise. However, we have our own local man over there. Mr Grayden, the Western Australian State Minister for Immigration, has asked to be present and he will be most welcome. All of this exercise is merely to do one thing.

Senator Wheeldon - And a medical officer.

Senator WILLESEE - Also a medical officer will be present because it has been suggested- there is always the suggestion in such a case- that he might be under sedation or drugs.

Senator Rae - Whose medical officer?

Senator Withers -Will it be the Commonwealth Medical Officer?

Senator WILLESEE - The Commonwealth Medical Officer will be at the interview today. I take it that the interview will be held at the Parmelia Hotel. The whole purpose of this meeting is to give Mr Ermolenko a chance to say quite categorically what he wants to do. I want the Australian public to be convinced of this. We all want to be convinced.

Mr Ermolenkomade 2 decisions. Firstly he said that he did not want to go and secondly he said that he did want to go. This meeting will give him an opportunity to express his wish in front of a group of people who I think honourable senators will agree are a fairly representative group.

Senator Withers - Will any embassy officials be present?

Senator WILLESEE - Yes, our man will be there.

Senator Withers - No, I mean Russian Embassy officials.

Senator WILLESEE - I think there will be. We were talking about this matter this morning. The Russians have put it to us that they would want somebody from their Embassy to be at the interview. So I think I would prefer Professor Kabalevsky to come along. In this situation I do not think we should be denying consular access to the Russian Embassy. If the position were reversed, we would not like that to happen. As honourable senators know, many questions have been asked in the Senate about our demanding consular access to our nationals in other countries. Therefore, I think the Russians should have such access. In fact, I think they could demand it under international law. So I anticipate that Professor Kabalevsky or somebody else may be at the interview today. I repeat that what we are doing is merely giving this lad a chance to state openly what he wants and we are showing the Australian people that this is what we are doing.

The other matter that has been raised this morning is that two writs have been issued. One has been issued against the Russian officer concerned and the other one calls on the Commissioner of Police to produce the lad in court at a certain time. I cannot give the honourable senators any advice on this matter. Very obviously, the Russian officer concerned can claim diplomatic immunity and he probably will do so. I also point out that Ermolenko is not in custody. He spent last night at the Parmelia Hotel -

Senator Jessop - With whom?

Senator Greenwood - With whom?

Senator WILLESEE -Wait until I finish. I am about to tell honourable senators. (Opposition senators interjecting)-

The PRESIDENT - Order! The Minister is answering the question.

Senator WILLESEE -He spent last night at the Parmelia Hotel with the other Russians.

Senator Greenwood - That is what I was asking.

Senator WILLESEE -Will the honourable senator wait until I finish? Mr Carl Henne, the officer of the Department of Foreign Affairs who is in charge of our office in Perth, also spent the evening at the Parmelia Hotel. They occupied three adjoining rooms. I do not know how the position in regard to the two writs will work out. One of them asks for the lad to be delivered up by the Commonwealth Police. He is not in custody. He is at the Parmelia Hotel.

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