House debates

Monday, 11 September 2023

Private Members' Business

Overthrow of Chilean Government: 50th Anniversary

6:47 pm

Photo of David SmithDavid Smith (Bean, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That this House:

(1) notes that:

(a) 11 September 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the 1973 coup in the Republic of Chile; and

(b) the coup and subsequent military dictatorship was supported and enabled by the interference of foreign powers; and

(2) acknowledges that:

(a) the coup was an abrogation of the democratic rights of the people of Chile;

(b) the subsequent military dictatorship was a period of intense suffering and repression for the Chilean people;

(c) the Government in 1973 initiated a program which brought thousands of refugees from Chile to Australia;

(d) the contribution of those Chileans to the life and society of Australia has been outstanding;

(e) the peoples of Australia have and continue to enjoy strong and happy relations; and

(f) today Chile is a strong and progressive democracy and a key partner of Australia.

I rise to speak on this important motion this evening on a day marked with sadness and reflection for the people of Chile and for the defenders of democracy everywhere. On 11 September 1973, elements of the Chilean Armed Forces launched an illegal attack on the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende. In the aftermath of the coup, Chile fell under military rule, with a brutal junta led by Augusto Pinochet unleashing untold suffering in that country. The Chilean coup marked the beginning of a period of pain, suffering, violence and oppression for the people of Chile. The Pinochet regime assumed an almost totalitarian attitude, with any opponents—real or perceived—facing absolute brutality. Extrajudicial killings and torture were common tools of control. At the same time, the regime ruled through violence. It embarked upon an aggressive assault on the economy of Chile , pursuing radical neoliberal changes.

Perhaps the most insidious element of the coup is the foreign involvement which brought it about. Within the ideological rhetoric of the Cold War, the Nixon administration in the United States opposed the election of the Allende government and his ascension to the presidency of Chile and sought to undermine his government even before he was inaugurated. Planning was deep in detail and even included the murder of General Rene Schneider, Pinochet's predecessor as Chilean army chief and an opponent of the coup. Unfortunately, elements of a previous Australian government were also involved in the intervention that led to the coup.

It's right that we remember this terrible coup in this place. Chile is part of Australia's story. Australia and Chile have long been connected—two great nations facing each other across the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. The great port city of Valparaiso was an important stop for many vessels making the voyage both to and from Australia. Exchanges between the peoples of Chile and Australia are also very well established. In 1837 General Jose Joaquin Prieto was exiled to Sydney, arriving on the schooner Colo Colo. In 1834, 10 convicts absconded from Tasmania in the brig Frederick and escaped all the way to Chile.

From the 1830s many Chileans migrated to Australia to work in agriculture and mining. One of the most pertinent connections between Australia and Chile can be found in the story of our third Prime Minister, John Christian Watson, who was born in Valparaiso. His father worked on the ships that crossed the Pacific. Watson eventually ended up in Sydney, became a founding member of the Australian Labor Party and in 1904 became Prime Minister of Australia, leading the first social democratic government anywhere in the world.

In more recent times Chilean Australians have made outstanding contributions to life in Australia, particularly those who came here after the coup. The Whitlam government worked to bring many Chileans to safety here in Australia. Of those who came, I'm reminded in particular of Victor Marillanca. Victor is a constituent of mine and a life member of the ACT branch of the Australian Labor Party. In 1973 he opposed the coup and stood up for democracy. He was persecuted and tortured, the injuries from which continue to plague him. After coming to Australia, Victor established a Latin American program on community radio, and 47 years later it is still going strong.

Today we remember a dark chapter of history but resolve to move forward and never repeat the failures and mistakes of the past. History remains open to teach us lessons and we must ensure that we properly learn them. We can never allow the terrible events of 11 September 1973 to happen again. In the words of the Chilean President, I recognise that:

The only way to build a future that is more free and respectful of life and human dignity is to know the whole truth.


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