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Tuesday, 22 June 1999
Page: 7066


Mrs DE-ANNE KELLY (10:53 PM) —The House would be only too aware of the plight of the two Australian aid workers, Steve Pratt and Peter Wallace, convicted and imprisoned most unjustly in Yugoslavia. It has now been some 83 days since they were first taken into custody. Many people have been kindly and supportive towards the Wallaces, Peter's family, who live in my electorate of Dawson, including the Prime Minister, CARE Australia, Malcolm Fraser, Nelson Mandela, Kofi Annan, Mary Robinson and Jesse Jackson—to name a few—but none more so than Mr Downer, who has left no avenue unexplored, no option untouched and who has been, with his office and department, unceasingly kind, showing commonsense and being supportive towards the families. Because of the sensitivities involved, he has had to leave much of his efforts unheralded and unsung, but that does not diminish the efforts and the endeavours he has made.

The Mackay community and Wallace family have been very much aware and appreciative of the efforts of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Downer. Therefore, it was with disbelief that I heard the mean-spirited comments by the Leader of the Opposition and read the covers and editorials of what I had thought were two of the more responsible national newspapers. I would like to share these with the House now. On the front page of today's Australian is the headline, `How a Belgrade mercy dash led to Lord's'. The editorial states:

It was, however, less clever that his next public appearance should be at Lord's for the World Cup final.

The Sydney Morning Herald carries a headline, `Caught out at Lords', with a photograph of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and an editorial to match. The truth of this matter is that Mr Downer last week believed, as we all did, that there was a very good opportunity to meet Mr Milosevic and secure the freedom of the two Australian aid workers. He gave up an opportunity to attend a significant personal family event to fly to Yugoslavia and work on behalf of our Australian aid workers. In a country torn by war, which is led by someone who is supposedly a war criminal, events move quickly and unpredictably, and the meeting could not take place. What are the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian suggesting—that on the way home, Mr Downer should adopt a hairshirt and not take the opportunity, having done his duty, to visit the World Cup cricket?

The family of Peter Wallace take every opportunity to mix in the community. They take a great effort to lead a normal life—to mix with friends, to play golf, to take strength from enjoying the pleasures of every day life. No less should be allowed the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Downer. So it was a mean-spirited comment by newspapers which I had thought would behave in a more responsible manner.

The second concern I have is more serious. At least the Sydney Morning Herald had, I guess, the good grace to mention it. It says here:

. . . in Belgrade by allowing the impression, false though it no doubt is, that the Belgrade leg of his journey was not necessarily the most important for him. In a delicate case like this, perceptions can count as much as reality.

That is only too true. Who would have created these perceptions—the newspapers and, regrettably, the most ill thought out comments by the Leader of the Opposition. It is the responsibility not only of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the government but of all Australians of goodwill to behave with sensitivity and compassion and to pray for the freedom of our two aid workers. It is not a time for ill thought out, mean-spirited and unhelpful comments. I hope that the newspapers and all of those in Australia of goodwill will work towards the freedom of our aid workers.

Question resolved in the affirmative.