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.

Photo of Bridget ArcherBridget Archer (Bass, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Luke GoslingLuke Gosling (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.

6:52 pm

Photo of Elizabeth Watson-BrownElizabeth Watson-Brown (Ryan, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the bloody US-backed military coup that overthrew the democratically elected Chilean government on 11 September1973. After President Salvador Allende was elected in 1970, the CIA worked to destabilise his government and to create the conditions for a military coup. The death toll of the coup and subsequent military dictatorship under the rule of General Augusto Pinochet is still not known. The best estimate we have is that around 40,000 Chileans were tortured or killed under the regime's ruthless purge of political opponents.

This motion has some critical omissions. First and foremost, it names the mysterious interference of foreign powers, but doesn't name which nations. The role of the US is widely known, but many may not realise that Australia also played a role in destabilising the Allende government, paving the way for the military coup. Thanks to documents declassified in 2021, we know that the Australian Security and Intelligence Service, ASIS, operated a base in Santiago from 1971 to 1973 and supported the CIA in their operations there. Only around 18 months later, the then newly elected Australian Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, ordered the base to be shut down. Unfortunately, we know little else about what ASIS was actually up to during that time. Further attempts to declassify records in 2021 were blocked by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, supposedly in the national interest—more secretive even than the US and UK on this event.

This information is now five decades old. The Australian public deserves to know what ASIS was doing there aiding and abetting a military coup that resulted in the torture and death of tens of thousands of people. The Australian public deserves to know because this government continues a long-term collusion and relationship with the United States, despite the United States's poor record of interference in foreign affairs.

The Chilean coup is not the only time the US has actively undermined democratically elected governments. In 1953 the fledgling Iranian democracy was overthrown by a CIA backed coup, after efforts to nationalise the Iranian oil industry out of the hands of the British, who had controlled it for decades. Iran has never since had a democratic government. In 1954, just a year later, the US explicitly authorised a coup against the democratically elected government of Guatemala at the behest of the American owned corporation the United Fruit Company.

I could continue, but I'd be here all night. We need only to think back to recent history—the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya—to know that, while the Cold War may be over, the US appetite for meddling in other nation's affairs and destroying their inhabitants' lives in the process has not subsided. And Australia has often been right behind them, never questioning. The result of all this meddling has not been the championing of democracy; it has been the destabilisation of regions felt across the globe today. In fact, this motion moved by the member for Bean mentions neither the US's involvement nor Australia's involvement in the coup, and that fact is worrying.

Australia needs a foreign policy independent of the US, and here's why. Fifty years ago today, in 1973, Australia joined with the CIA to help topple a democratically elected government. Australia has followed the US into countless wars that have resulted in the deaths of millions and the destabilisation of entire regions. This same Labor Party that refuses to acknowledge this is the Labor Party that has happily signed us onto the AUKUS agreement with the US, spending hundreds of billions of taxpayers' dollars on nuclear attack submarines, ostensibly to prop up US hegemony in the Pacific, submarines that, even before they've been built, have inflamed tensions in the region and made us less safe. Whispers of dissent at the recent ALP National Conference were summarily crushed, and even former Prime Minister and Labor royalty Paul Keating's calls against AUKUS have been ignored.

The major parties seem absolutely incapable of questioning the orthodoxy of US hegemony. Do they really still want us to be effectively America's lapdog 50 years after the bloody Chilean coup?

6:57 pm

Photo of Luke GoslingLuke Gosling (Solomon, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On the 50th anniversary of the coup d'etat in Chile, we remember the many who suffered during the brutal 17-year dictatorship. The Museum of Memory and Human Rights, which Assistant Minister Tim Watts visited during his visit to Santiago recently, shines a light on the human rights violations inflicted and recognises the important progress made since Chile's return to democracy. We celebrate the important contribution made by the Whitlam government in publicly deploring the coup and rejecting the complicity of foreign powers.

Australia made an important statement in welcoming a generation of Chilean immigrants to Australia, and they've made such a rich contribution to Australian society and democracy. I'll just talk for a moment about a mate of mine Roberto from Melbourne. He's an absolutely fantastic bloke. His parents immigrated from Chile in the early seventies. I don't know the year exactly, but they migrated and have made such an incredible contribution. What I can say about the Chilean people that I know through Roberto is that they are very, very friendly people; they are incredibly friendly people. I look forward to visiting Chile one day.

Chileans are, in fact, the second-largest group of Hispanic Australians. The 2021 census revealed almost 30,000 people in Australia were born in Chile, 70 per cent of them were Australian citizens. Our largest Chilean Australian communities are in Sydney, Melbourne, where my mate Roberto lives, and Canberra. It's a little-known fact that one of the first two Chileans to arrive to Australia in 1837 was former president Ramon Freire, who was exiled for attempting to return to power in a coup. In 1899, also little known, Chile opened a consulate office in Newcastle. Australia and Chile then established diplomatic relations in 1945, and Australia open a diplomatic legation in Santiago in 1946. Another fascinating fact, as the member for Bean pointed out, is that the first Labor Prime Minister, Chris Watson, was born in Chile as the son of a Chilean citizen of German descent.

Chileans first migrated to Australia in a significant wave of around 2,000 people between 1968 and 1970. The second wave occurred in 1970 following the election of Salvador Allende, the first democratically elected Marxist president in the world. Both of these waves were overwhelmingly from the middle class and became small-business owners in Australia. The third and largest wave of migrants followed the 1973 military coup and the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, the wave of migrants from Chile that we honour today. This explains how the Australian story is bound up with Chile's own political history. Of the 500,000 people fleeing the coup, Australia welcomed over 21,000 with open arms. We also gave asylum to Michelle Bachelet, former president of Chile, from 2006 to 2010 and again from 2014 to 2018, as well as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

President Bachelet later moved to East Germany, and thousands of Chileans also returned to Chile after those events. But we can be proud of the bonds that these experiences forged between our countries.

Today, Chile is one of the fastest-growing economies in Latin America, with an Indo-Pacific focus and emerging bilateral links in green energy and connectivity. Our engagement spans mining, resources, education and research and people-to-people links. We have a lot of Australians visiting Chile, and a lot of Chileans coming here to visit.

As it marks the anniversary, Chile is looking to the world to reaffirm our shared commitment to democracy and human rights, calling for a commitment to safeguard democracy and the rule of law and to recommit to multilateral processes.

By speaking about migration and people-to-people relationships, I by no means want to escape the fact that, over time, many wrong things were done, and we look to the future. (Time expired)

7:02 pm

Photo of Maria VamvakinouMaria Vamvakinou (Calwell, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to also mark the 50th anniversary of the 1973 coup in the Republic of Chile; 11 September 1973 marked a day of unimaginable tragedy for Chile. It was a turning point for the country and part of a tragic continuation of foreign interference at the expense of people's freedoms and liberties. Chile's democratically elected president Salvador Allende signified Chile's freedom and sovereignty and the democratic and human rights of not only the people of Chile but to Latin America, the Global South and, indeed, the world.

This commemoration is evidence of how solidarity, struggle and truth in the face of injustice is what lives on, values that stand testament to what continues to inspire, because who can forget the images of the democratically elected Salvador Allende standing valiantly in the face of a violent military coup?

I acknowledge the important contribution made by the then Whitlam government in not only publicly deploring the coup but rejecting the complicity of foreign powers. Today, as we honour the many who have suffered during the brutal Pinochet dictatorship, so too must we recognise that the violent coup and subsequent military dictatorship was supported and enabled by the interference of foreign powers.

As it marks the anniversary, Chile is looking to the world to reaffirm our shared commitment to democracy and human rights, and I indeed welcome the Ambassador of the Republic of Chile, who was in the House today during question time.

On an IPU delegation to Chile in 2003, I had the opportunity to meet with Salvador Allende's daughter Isabel Allende, who was then president of the Chamber of Deputies of Chile, and was struck by how universal and ubiquitous the memory of those events are in Chile's national psyche.

Australia made an important statement in welcoming a generation of Chilean immigrants to Australia and who continue to make a rich contribution to Australian society. I have a very strong relationship with our local Chilean diaspora community.

The impressive diversity of the Chilean economy today reflects the energy, the resilience and the vibrancy of its people. Australians also have a deep appreciation of Pablo Neruda's work, the poet diplomat, who symbolised the beauty and the voice of the Chilean people's struggles.

The trade union movement in Victoria has a long and proud history of international solidarity. In continuing this solidarity, and this tradition, the Victorian branch of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union is running a series of cultural and political activities that recognise the sacrifices of movements around the world. In reaffirming our movement's support and solidarity, they are tonight, in Melbourne at Unity Hall in Trades Hall, commemorating 50 years of solidarity and struggle with the Chilean people. They join in solidarity and the lifelong commitment to improving the lives of working people, not only in our home state of Victoria but across the country and beyond our shores. Wherever there is a struggle to improve working conditions, wherever there is a fight against political oppression, wherever there is a place beyond Australia's shores in which injustice reigns, we must stand in solidarity.

I want to reflect on the words of a long-time advocate of the international peace movement, former Victorian state secretary of the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, the late Frank Cherry. His words provide us with important lessons, quite often lost in today's social and political culture. Frank Cherry spoke of the development of an informed and educated workforce, a workforce that understood that international solidarity wasn't just an object of impassioned faith but of direct action. He said:

The union should not be restricted simply to wages and conditions, but a broader picture of the community. All shop stewards and officials of the union must be prepared and educated to deal with the broad issues facing all working people.

Our solidarity and support across Australia serves to do just that. Historical parallels require movements to remember and recommit to the values that shape history, both local and international. These linkages are not abstract, and I want to finish with Salvador Allende's final words, from his farewell speech on this very same and fateful day 50 years ago, which speak truth to this solidarity:

Workers of my country, I have faith in Chile and its destiny. Other men will overcome this dark and bitter moment when treason seeks to prevail. Keep in mind that, much sooner than later, the great avenues will again be opened through which will pass free men to construct a better society. Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers!

Photo of Rebekha SharkieRebekha Sharkie (Mayo, Centre Alliance) Share this | | Hansard source

There being no further speakers, the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.