House debates

Monday, 11 September 2023


Overthrow of Chilean Government: 50th Anniversary

11:58 am

Photo of Max Chandler-MatherMax Chandler-Mather (Griffith, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the Member for Griffith from moving the following motion—

That this House:

(1) notes:

(a) that 11 September 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of the illegal coup against the democratically elected Allende Government in Chile;

(b) that 4,000 people were killed or disappeared, and 40,000 people were tortured under the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet;

(c) the role that the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) and the Australian Government played in supporting the coup against the Allende Government, along with the United States' Government and the Central Intelligence Agency; and

(d) Prime Minister Gough Whitlam's subsequent decision to order that ASIS end their operation against the Chilean people; and

(2) calls on the Government to apologise to the people of Chile for the actions of the ASIS in supporting the coup and the harm caused by the dictatorship of General Pinochet.

On 11 September 1973, the government of Chile, headed by the democratic socialist President Salvador Allende, was overthrown in a brutal, illegal military coup that was resourced, supported and partly organised by the United States, through the covert action of the Central Intelligence Agency. Shamefully, the Australian government, through the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, or ASIS, assisted the CIA in engineering the coup against Allende.

We've moved the suspension of standing orders because we wanted to debate this motion this morning and we were prevented from doing so. This is the 50th anniversary, and so it is fundamental and important that we debate this today.

The coup resulted in the rise of the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet and the murder, torture and disappearance of tens of thousands of Chileans. When plotting their coup, US President Nixon is reported to have told CIA Director Richard Helms, 'Make the Chilean economy scream.' But it wasn't just trade embargoes and sanctions; the CIA, with the assistance of ASIS, provided financial support to the coup plotters, logistical and communication support, and advice and encouragement. They not only created the conditions for the coup; they were the active agents in its occurrence, feeding on and fostering the discontent of Chilean elites, encouraging their violence and ultimately providing the necessary drive for the successful coup.

What was Allende's apparent crime? Why did the CIA and the United States government, acting with the support of ASIS and the Australian government, push for the overthrow of a peaceful, democratic government? Why did Australia's intelligence agency participate in the destruction of a democratic system much like our own in favour of a murderous, violent dictatorship that lasted 17 long years? Allende and the Chilean government refused to bow to the financial and military interests of the United States empire. They nationalised American owned Chilean copper mines, depriving American multinational companies of their perceived birthright to pillage another country's natural resources for their own corporate profit, much like American multinational mining companies do to Australia today. The Allende Popular Unity government raised wages and froze prices on bread and other essentials. During this time, Chile saw big increases in industrial growth and GDP while inflation and unemployment declined. But then of course the American economic sabotage started to bite. The government created a program where free milk was distributed to every child, helping to significantly reduce infant mortality and child poverty. They established a publicly owned publishing company and distributed cheap classical fiction, poetry and philosophy. The government expanded public health care and education, reduced taxes for Chilean workers and helped progress crucial agrarian reform. Perhaps, most ambitiously, they pursued a world leading technology called Cybersyn that allowed for the electronic coordination of manufacturing, logistics and production across the country. It has later been acknowledged as a very similar technology to earlier versions of the internet.

Ultimately, the Allende government represented an existential threat to a world in which the United States pursued its financial and foreign policy interests with little regard for democracy or peace. How often are we told by those in power that there is no alternative to an economic system that sees corporate profits soar while ordinarily people struggle? Here was a peaceful, democratic country openly challenging the power of the United States and large multinational corporations and pursuing economic-social reform that redistributed wealth and power to ordinary working people in a way that fundamentally improved Chilean lives. For the United States, this was unacceptable. If a country could take ownership of its own resources and use that wealth for the benefit of the many, if a country could forsake the interests of the United States and flourish, well then, other countries and their people may ask themselves a simple question: if Chile can pursue such a path, then why can't we? That's what we call hope. For ordinary people, it is a powerful, transformative force. For the United States and its allies, it is a serious threat—not a threat to peace or prosperity but a threat to a system that puts enormous wealth and power in the hands of the few at the expense of the vast majority of ordinary people.

But what of the Australian government? Ever the loyal ally of the United States, when the CIA formally requested support in destroying Chilean democracy, the Australian government and ASIS answered the call and sent agents and resources in 1971, two years before the coup. This has been confirmed by the release of heavily redacted national security documents by the National Security Archive in the United States. Of course, we may never know the full extent of Australia's involvement, because the Australian government in 2021 successfully blocked the release of classified documents detailing exactly how ASIS assisted the CIA in destabilising and eventually destroying Chilean democracy. Former Australian intelligence officer and academic Clinton Fernandes, who attempted to force the Australian government to release the documents, said:

The Australian government insists on secrecy to avoid having to admit to the Australian public that it helped destroy Chilean democracy.

The Australian government and security establishment would rather the Australian public forget. This motion, acknowledging the anniversary of the military coup in Chile, including Australia's role in the coup, was selected by the Greens to be debated in private members' time. However, in the Labor dominated selection committee, while their deliberations were private, the end result was not allowing the Greens to debate this motion.

It may seem trivial. After all, this motion stands little chance of succeeding, but it is nonetheless crucial that we take these moments to remember. The Allende government and Chilean democracy didn't fail because of some innate flaw in their program or policies; they were actively destroyed by forces who saw the potential success of Allende and the Popular Unity government as a threat to their financial and foreign policy interests. The Australian government and ASIS participated in that destruction. We should never forget that, no matter how hard the political and intelligence establishment tries to hide that fact.

There is another reason the Australian government would rather we all forget. It begs the obvious question: what are they doing in our name today? What has our slavish loyalty to the United States cost us—loyalty that has seen the Labor government commit at least $368 billion dollars of public money to purchase nuclear attack submarines and hand over our sovereignty to America, which once again seems hell-bent on escalating a dangerous arms race, this time with China?

This motion calls on the Australian government to apologise to the people of Chile for their role in destroying a vibrant, prospering democracy at the behest of the United States. It really is the least the Australian government should do. The Australian government should apologise not just for the political murders committed by the Pinochet regime, not just for the torture and unjust imprisonment, not just for the 17 years of dictatorship, not just for the extinguishing of Chilean democracy and of a political project with the potential to transform the lives of millions of Chileans for the better and to inspire hope in the hearts of millions of people across the world. The Australian government should apologise so that we as a country can have an honest, informed and real debate about the cost of obediently doing whatever the United States may ask of us as a country—the cost not just for Australia and Australians but for the millions of countries around the world whose countries have been ravaged by the litany of illegal wars, coups and assassinations America is responsible for.

Ordinary everyday Australians have far more in common with an ordinary Chilean than they do with the CEO of a large American multinational mining company. Both Australians and Chileans have so much to gain by using the enormous mining wealth for the benefit of working people. This is what Allende sought to do, and it was the Australian government and intelligence agencies that helped destroy that. We in the Greens have never forgotten this. Solidarity with the people of Chile, and sorry for what the Australian government did to your country.

Photo of Ross VastaRoss Vasta (Bonner, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is there a seconder?

12:06 pm

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion. There are two critical reasons that this should be debated today, in addition to the excellent contribution from the member for Griffith, which I endorse. One is, of course, that today is the anniversary. Given that this is a motion that is relevant to the anniversary, it's a motion that needs to be debated today, and that's why standing and sessional orders need to be suspended.

The second is that this is private members' day. Monday is when all the private members' business is conducted. Post last election, we are in a situation where roughly a third of the country, or a bit less, votes for the government; roughly a third of the country, or a bit more, votes for the opposition; and a third of the country votes for someone else. We're represented in here, on this large crossbench, in numbers that have never before been seen in this parliament. As I say, a third of the country wants third voices here.

On Mondays, we get an opportunity—a very limited opportunity—to have our say. Ordinarily, we get to respond to government bills and we might get to respond to matters that the opposition raises, but there's precious limited time for us here in the crossbench representing, diversely, a third of the country and carrying the interests of many, many more on issues that the major parties don't want to talk about. We get a very small window of opportunity to bring forward to this place the things that we want to debate. When we say in the limited slot that is given to us we want to debate a particular motion—especially given that it falls on a particular day and we have put in place, with a very long lead time, the work necessary to ensure that we get our motion in on time and have the capacity to debate it on that day—we should be allowed to debate it.

I say that about other members of the crossbench and members of the parliament who will bring things to this place that we might disagree with. Surely the purpose of allowing private members to bring matters for debate in this place is to have them debated? You can stand up and oppose it, but they shouldn't be prevented from bringing it up.

This is an issue that could have been fixed and could have been addressed. We find ourselves in a situation now where we weren't able to debate the motion that the Greens sought to have debated. I hope that this is the last time that this happens. To my knowledge, it's close to the first time that it's happened that private members haven't been able to have the motion of their choice debated in this place. In a parliament where there is a strong desire from the Australian people to see issues brought up and debated that the others won't touch, it makes it more important that members of the crossbench who want to bring private members' motions are able to do so without concern that they're going to be told, 'No, that motion is not acceptable for debate.' As I say and as the member for Griffith says, it doesn't mean it's going to get passed; it just means it's going to be debated, in a limited slot.

I would say this, too: if we actually had in this parliament representation that was reflective of the true will of the people of the country, then we'd probably spend a third of our time debating issues that members of the crossbench want to bring up. That's how many people are now fed up with the establishment parties and are saying, 'Let's put other issues on the table.' What you also find is that the issues we bring here are issues that 80 per cent of people agree with. These are things like wanting to freeze and cap rents, things like wanting a national anticorruption commission—for a long time we were the ones whistling in the wind about that—and things like marriage equality. We started to break the stranglehold of the establishment parties on marriage equality when a private member's motion—mine—was brought into this place, with the Greens representing the will of so many people.

The ability to bring private members' motions here is important. In many instances these motions end up being what the parliament ultimately agrees on, because we break the stranglehold of the establishment parties, but that can only happen if we're able to bring motions here when we want them. As I say, I hope we don't have to find ourselves on our feet again, having to resort to suspending standing orders, to be able to bring our issues to the parliament's attention. It's critical that we do this today. It's private members' business day and it's also the anniversary.

12:11 pm

Photo of Matt KeoghMatt Keogh (Burt, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Veterans’ Affairs) Share this | | Hansard source

I just want to point out that we are now at the end of private members' business in the House, yet we have a motion to suspend standing orders to debate an issue which is already listed on the Notice Paper to be debated in the Federation Chamber later today. The only thing that this debate right now is serving to do is to delay the government—indeed, the whole parliament—from being able to proceed with very important legislation, such as legislation to close loopholes in our industrial relations system to protect workers, legislation to protect the future of the Murray-Darling system, and legislation on greenhouse and energy minimum standards. You would think these would be things that members of the Greens political party, of all people, would want to see the parliament deal with.

Instead, we have grandstanding by the member for Griffith, who is listed as someone who will be debating this very topic in the Federation Chamber later today. Any of the issues he cares to raise through a suspension of standing orders motion he could deal with in his contribution to the debate in the Federation Chamber, but somehow they don't understand how this system of parliamentary democracy works. The opportunity to speak on this issue is already available today, on this important anniversary. Whatever issues they may wish to raise in relation to it could be raised in the contribution to that debate, which is already listed to occur today. For that reason, the government will not be supporting the proposal to suspend standing orders now.

Photo of Milton DickMilton Dick (Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

The question is that the motion be agreed to.