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Wednesday, 20 November 1974
Page: 2577

Senator WILLESEE (Western AustraliaMinister for Foreign Affairs) - I intervene at this stage firstly to thank Senator Missen for raising this question in an unemotional way. Secondly, I want to deal with some of the points that he has made. He has dealt largely with the subject of the question which he asked me and which I answered on 2 occasions, firstly off the cuff, and secondly when I got later information for him. He has asked whether I have any further information. Yes, I have. I have been replying to some letters dealing with this subject and I think he might be happy to know that there is some interest in it. I have signed lately two or three letters so at least there is some movement in Australia on this. In these letters which I have written, mostly to members of Parliament who have raised the matter on behalf of their constituents, I have agreed with several of the points that Senator Missen has raised. For example, I said in one letter I sent:

We do not have access to direct information on the matter as there is no Australian mission in Syria. Bui advice available to us indicates that Jewish people residing in Syria are subject to a number of special restrictions. These relate to such matters as internal movement and travel, the holding of government posts and, perhaps most importantly, the right of emigration. Jewish people are also required to carry special identity papers. The Syrian authorities maintain that these restrictions, particularly on the right of emigration, relate to the state of war which they consider still exists between Syria and Israel. Beyond these restrictions our information does not confirm allegations of systematic persecution of the Jewish community in Syria although it does appear the incidents of harassment and violence have occurred.

There is no denial and the Government is not trying to became an advocate for the Syrians in this matter. It is a question of what one can do in these circumstances. Senator Missen acknowledged at the end of his speech that we have taken stands in certain areas. As he was speaking I jotted a couple of them down. I made probably the strongest statement on Solzhenitsyn of any foreign minister in the world. I condemned the Greek action in Cyprus. I later condemned the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. The question of atomic testing we have taken up with everybody that we thought we could possibly have any influence on. Every time I have visited countries which have political prisoners I have raised the matter at the highest possible, level, and so has the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam). Our advice to people who write to us about these matters is that where the countries concerned have embassies in this country they should go to those embassies and to the people who can do something about their problem- that is, the respective Governments. In many ways those people can say and do things and use pressure probably more effectively than a government can. Other governments can always say to us: 'Look, mind your own business. This is an internal matter. ' To give credit to a lot of the people to whom I have talked, they have not taken that angle. But we know it is in back of their minds and it is their final weapon against us if they wish to use it. If they started to criticise certain types of people in gaols in Australia, I think we would very quickly say that those people have been placed there because of the due process of law in Australia as unhappy as we may be with some of the types of people in gaols in Australia and some of the due processes of law.

I refer now to the question of why we are remaining silent. Senator Missen asks whether it is a matter of getting oil money or getting votes in the United Nations. Neither is true. Oil money will not be recycled, which is the modern word for anything done at this level, but will go where long term investments and that type of thing can be made. The money will go to politically stable countries in which the oil producing countries can see a great return for their money over a long period. They have so much money- $69 billion extra this year- that they will be able to pick and choose as they go along. Senator Missen raises the question of lining up votes in the United Nations. Anybody who goes to the United Nations and studies it will find that that just does not work, even if they wanted it to work. At times delegates will have to vote against very old friends and at times will be disappointing people who look to the new stands that Australia has developed during the last few years. Lining up votes is just not on. It just does not work in that way.

If honourable senators look at some of the votes we have taken in the last session they will see that we have disappointed everybody at times. Sometimes it has been our own Western European and Others Group. At other times on the South African question we have disappointed black Africans. On other votes we have disappointed some of our friends in the WEO Group. This is inevitable. This is what I believe meetings are all about whether they be meetings of a political party, a cricket club or the United Nations. People must stand up in their own way, doing their best with all the information in their hands at the time. The very next day they may regret it or wish they had taken a stronger stance. That is all anybody can do. I think that all any politician can do at the end of his life is to look back and to say that he did what he thought was right at the time with the information he had. Maybe he will make mistakes. He will certainly make mistakes.

I want to make it very clear that the more interest I see- there is a great interest throughout the world- in the question of the denial of civil liberties in other countries the happier I am. There is a great interest, particularly in those countries close to us, in the question of prisoners. I think there should be a great interest in it. I think people should feel embarrassed, they should feel slighted by it and they should express their opinions. I am all for that. The matter comes to the question of what a government can do. As I say I always tell people who come to me to talk on matters of this nature to go along to the embassy involved or to any other avenues there may be to make their views known. It is the governments which deny civil liberties which can give civil liberties if enough pressure is put on them.

As I say we have made statements on such things as Greece, Turkey, Chile and Solzhenitsyn, because we believe our voice has some weight. But I think we have to be careful, particularly in the area we occupy in the world, to be helpful and to stand up on moral issues and principles but at the same time not to get the name of being meddlesome by meddling in the affairs of other people. Senator Missen makes the point that we have not made a statement on a situation on which he thinks we should make a statement. It is just a value judgment that we have made. 1 do not say we will adopt this attitude for all time. The situation touches on the most sensitive area in the world and in my view the most dangerous area in the world today. We are going through a special time. Only a few days ago it looked very much as if yet another war could have broken out in that front. We are dealing with a very sensitive and very delicate position. It is a very difficult thing to say whether our voice will make any difference. It is not as if the world is ignoring the situation. As I said in my answer to Senator Missen, which he quoted, a meeting took place in Paris of no less than 29 countries. At the meeting the countries were pretty forthright. They did what they thought. As I stated in my answer to SenatorMissen they called on people like President Nixon, Mr Brezhnev and the Syrian President, President Assad, to take some action on this matter. They are the people who have the leverage here. What sort of leverage would we have in Australia? We are a long way from the situation. Apart from making a stand and saying that we condemn this sort of thing, what leverage do we have?

Senator Missen - I think you sell us short.

Senator WILLESEE - Yes, maybe. As I say, this is not the end. The matter can be looked at in the future. I feel we are in a very delicate situation at this stage. Things happen in the world of diplomacy that do not always become public headines, and thank heavens they do not. We have a lot of friends, a lot of powerful friends, who I do not think would hesitate to ask us if necessary, to do anything in this regard or in any other regard as they frequently do. To my knowledge we have not had any pressures from our friends in this regard.

I do not think I have much more to say. I have answered Senator Missen 's second point concerning the rousing of world opinion. I have said that people have to put as much pressure as possible on the governments concerned. Senator Missen referred also to the Jewish communities which have had a history of persecution, I agree. Unfortunately it is not only the Jewish people in the world today who are suffering the loss of civil liberties. It is happening, as I say, in many countries. I repeat that people ought to be affronted and should raise the matters. Senator Missen has raised this matter again today in an unemotional way. I appreciate that. He has put to me that he disagrees with the line we are taking at the moment. He thinks we should be taking another. His words will be listened to and they will certainly be studied. I promise him that.

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