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Tuesday, 19 November 1974
Page: 2478

Senator DURACK (WESTERN AUSTRALIA) - In directing my question to the Minister for Foreign Affairs I refer him to the speech he made at the United Nations in which he indicated that Australia intended to promote a discussion on principles which would govern political asylum. Has Australia formulated principles which it proposes to place before the United Nations on this subject? If so, will those principles include satisfactory procedures to be adopted in the event of a situation occurring similar to the Ermolenko incident which took place in Australia recently? Will the Minister be making a statement or tabling documents setting out such principles with a view to allowing public discussion on them in Australia?

Senator WILLESEE -The asylum question at the United Nations is not going to be an easy one. We never expected that it would be easy. I think it has been with the legal section or committee of the United Nations since about 1949. This followed the situation in Chile which was a very distressing one. Under the Montevideo and Caracas conventions Latin American countries could take persons seeking asylum and other countries could not. It was a very difficult situation. It seemed to me that this was a time at least to try to have the provision of asylum extended throughout the world. The importance of it is terrific. If we get it extended in some way we do not know how many lives and how much distress we may be able to save in the future. The Ermolenko case is not a good example because there never was a question of political asylum. Never at any stage did he ask for political asylum. Never at any stage did he claim that if he went back to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics his life would be in danger which under our sort of loose provisions is the criterion that we would look for at the moment.

When I was at the United Nations it seemed to me and on the advice of the legal people there and of our own people that the best way to handle it was to have the matter referred to the appropriate committee so we could start work on it. I might say as further background to this that when we announced that we were going to float this at the United Nations there was at first the feeling that we should keep our hands off because there is always the problem where a country will say that this is interfering with the sovereignty and rights of its own people. Others wished us well; others backed us. When I was there I was more pleased than I was when I left Australia because countries were starting to get behind us and were saying that this is worth fighting for and this is something that they would look at. As to what information I can give, I will be only too happy to make available interim reports or anything that I can get as the committee gets under way. I do not expect it to be a very quick decision.

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