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Wednesday, 18 September 1974
Page: 1226

Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) - My rising to speak now has the effect, as you stated Mr Acting Deputy President, of closing the debate. I am sure that there are other speakers on both sides of the Senate who would have desired to speak in the debate. But with the mutuality that from time to time governs the affairs of the Senate, we recognise that there ought to be a decision taken on this matter this evening. I will not take up much of the time of the Senate. The motion which the senate has been debating states that the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee) is deserving of censure and ought to resign because:

(i)   in denial of human rights and contrary to the rule of the law and in order to appease the Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics he organised the surreptitious departure if Georgi Ermolenko from Australia when doubt existed as to whether he was departing under duress and when that issue was being considered by the Supreme Court of Western Australia.

The facts in relation to that paragraph of the motion have been well canvassed in the debate. I think that we were all interested to hear the account which was given by the Minister for Foreign Affairs when he spoke in the debate. However, I make 2 points: Firstly, he acknowledged that at the interview with the Department of Immigration officials, Mr Ermolenko, on the Monday morning, indicated that he wanted to remain in Australia. As I understand the position, he was prepared to take those further steps which were necessary to give formal effect to that request. It was at a later stage that he indicated that he wanted to go home. That later request created the furore and the doubt as to whether it was a genuine request because it was a request which he made only after he came into the custody of the Russians.

I was interested to hear some spokesmen in the course of this debate almost suggest- I certainly interpreted what they were saying as a statementthat there was nothing thereafter to indicate that Ermolenko did not want to go home. But a number of statements were made. There were the statements which were made to a woman journalist, doubts which were expressed by interpreters and other persons who believed from their assessment of what the man was saying that he was not speaking his mind in the various interviews they witnessed

Senator Poyser - You are not addressing a jury now.

Senator GREENWOOD - All I say is that in those circumstances the question of whether or not the man was being held under duress ought not to be determined by a Minister and ought not to be determined by any individual who is under suspicion that he is serving his own, his Party's or his Government's interests. That issue ought to be determined by the courts, as it is always determined in this country where native born Australians are concerned.

Senator Cavanagh - Why do you not finish your remarks so that we can take a vote on the motion?

Senator GREENWOOD - I detect the usual sort of sniping interjections from Senator Poyser and Senator Cavanagh. I know that they find the recitation of facts such as I am putting forward to be distasteful.

Senator Cavanagh - You have not put facts before us yet.

Senator GREENWOOD - I am putting facts before the Minister which are absolutely incontrovertible. No one appears to want to carry forward what are the consequences of those facts. But as I have said- I think that the case for the Opposition really depends upon this- the Minister chose to make his own assessment instead of leaving the matter to the courts. In a vital matter of human rights and of individual freedom we believe that it is completely wrong for a Minister of the Crown to say that in his view a person is not being held under duress and to deny to the courts an opportunity to make that decision. It is not the Liberal approach. It has never been the Liberal approach and it never will be the Liberal approach. We believe that in those circumstances the Minister is deserving of censure by the Senate. The fact that after Mr Ermolenko had left Australia in the Royal Australian Air Force aircraft -

Senator Poyser - What was the position when you conscripted young men to fight in Vietnam? That was the Liberal approach.

Senator GREENWOOD -Senator Poyser has been spending the day not in addressing himself to this motion but in sniping away by interjection when other honourable senators have been speaking. One can only hope that the Labor Party will not send too many senators of Senator Poyser 's calibre into the Senate chamber if it does not desire to make that standard of contribition. We have had the Minister's statement that the writ of habeas corpus was discharged by the court. That was a decision of the court after Mr Ermolenko had been taken out of the country by the special Royal Australian Air Force aircraft which the Minister had arranged. In those circumstances at that time it is common sense that the writ which was to be heard by the court would not be further heard by the court. I fail to see what point can be made by way of support for the Minister's case.

The second leg of the motion states:

(ii)   in breach of a clear undertaking to the contrary given by the Prime Minister the Government shamefully and furtively extended recognition to the incorporation of the Baltic States in the U.S.S.R., the Minister withholding any announcement or explanation of the decision.

What the Government has failed to acknowledge in the course of this debate is why an undertaking given in May was dishonoured in April. The basic proposition which we assert is that in May the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), in response to questions asked of him, said that the Government did not propose to change the existing policy. I shall quote from a letter from the editor of the 'Latvian News' which was written to the Australian Press. I quote from the Hobart Mercury' of 6 August 1974. The Prime Minister was asked:

Q: Do you plan to touch on the question at all, during your coming visit to Moscow?

A: No.

Q: So you are, in fact, saying that your policy in the matter is the same as that of the previous Government?

A: Yes.

Q: Do you intend to change it?

A: No.

That was stated prior to the election on 18 May. Why then did the Government change its policy? We have not been given an answer, and the only attempt at an answer by the Minister was that the Government recognised the realities. Were not those realities which the Government now relies upon the realities of May 1974? Has anything happened between May and July which warranted a change?

Senator Cavanagh - Yes, the people voted.

Senator GREENWOOD -Senator Cavanagh says 'yes '. What was it?

Senator Cavanagh - The people voted. They locked you out.

Senator GREENWOOD -Senator Cavanagh may be giving a revealing answer. When the Government got the vote of the people it felt it could make any decision it pleased and so it repudiated the promise. That is the fundamental basis of the Opposition's motion which says that the Minister is deserving of censure because a promise to uphold the ideal of freedom, cherished by people who came to this country and by their descendants, was utterly and shamefully repudiated. Therefore it is a matter which we say is deserving of censure. The third part of the motion is that the Minister should be censured and ought to resign because the foreign policy alignments he is promoting will not serve Australia's national interests. We have indicated the transformation which has taken place in Australia's stance and relationship with other countries in the 1 8 months in which this Government has been in power. The Minister carries the political responsibility for that decision, and as he is in this chamber it is appropriate that the motion be directed to him. It is not novel because motions moved when a different Government was in power were directed at Ministers for decisions they took in discharge of obligations which they had to the Government of which they were members.

There is one final point to which I refer. It has been suggested by Senator Steele Hall that he found himself in a predicament in regard to this resolution. As he saw the position- and he expressed it as is his right- he felt there was merit in the second leg of this three-pronged motion and would have voted if he had the opportunity against the first and third legs but in favour of the second leg. I suggest to him that it is not easy to be the independent or the individual senator in this chamber. The motion which the Opposition has moved is a resolution of the Opposition parties and in putting it forward I am discharging an obligation which I have as Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate to put forward the Opposition 's viewpoint. If Senator Steele Hall desires to eliminate from the motion any part of it to which he objects he may move an amendment to the motion. But he has not moved an amendment. Alternatively he may ask that the matter be taken separately and if he had I am sure that we would have conceded the right of an independent senator to have that approach accepted. But as I understand it, it is a matter for the Senate ultimately to decide.

We believe that we would not be fulfilling the obligation which we as Opposition senators owe to an electorate which put us into this chamber on the policies which we expressed to the electorate if we were not to express views totally consistent with the views which we held in Government and which we put to the Australian people. We believe that the conduct which the Minister has shown with regard to these 2 events- the recognition of the Baltic states' forceful incorporation into the Soviet Union and the attitude which the Government adopted with regard to the surreptitious departure of the young Russian musician, Ermolenko, from Australia- is such that the Minister has a political and personal responsibility which he cannot escape. We believe that his conduct was such that he is deserving of censure and it is for that reason that we have put the issue before the Senate.

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