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Thursday, 14 February 2002
Page: 233

Dr MARTIN (12:38 PM) —Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker Causley. May I too offer my congratulations in a formal way to you, to Mr Speaker, and to Mr Jenkins on his assumption of the role of Second Deputy Speaker for the third parliament continuously. The Governor-General's speech, which was delivered on 12 February 2002 on behalf of the government and written in the Prime Minister's office and department, will, I think, be remembered more for what it does not say than what it does say. In the light of revelations in Australia over the last couple of days, that speaks volumes about this government. It tells the Australian people what I think many people already understood before the election; that is, as Paul Keating once described the Prime Minister as being mean and sneaky, the government has become tricky and sneaky in the way in which it has concealed from the Australian people many, many things.

The Governor-General's speech made much of the issue of security. It made much of this government's commitment to the war on terrorism. It made much about Australia's commitment to an Australian Defence Force that was able to play its part in the world in ensuring peace and security for Australia. Unfortunately, what it did not say was that, in trying to achieve all of those very laudable things, the government has been disingenuous, that the Prime Minister, the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs and the now disgraced and replaced former Minister for Defence have, on more than one occasion, at best misled the Australian people, at worst deliberately lied to them, in the lead-up to a federal election.

There are a couple of issues that arise out of the Governor-General's speech that I want to make some comment on under that broad concept of security. Firstly, I want to talk about it in terms of the election context, because there is a reasonable amount of revision of history being written at the moment by some people, and it is important to make sure that people have an understanding of what the facts were at the time. We all remember the dreadful events of September 11. This parliament and the nation as a whole, as reflected by the members in the parliament at the time, could not but feel affected by an overwhelming sense of despair about what had happened in the United States. It was right and it was proper that the government of the day, on behalf of the Australian parliament and the Australian people, indicate to the United States and, indeed, the world that a decisive stand needed to be taken in the war against terrorism and that Australia remained committed to do that. I had the honour of being the shadow minister for defence in the last parliament, and naturally I was reasonably well informed about the circumstances of what Australia's response might be. But what I found disturbing—and interestingly only today in the Australian Greg Sheridan talks about it—is the politicisation of Australia's Defence Force that came to the fore in the election campaign.

I remind people of, and ask them to reflect upon, these facts: how many times in the election campaign did we hear the Prime Minister say, `It won't be long now, but we will certainly be asked to go and participate in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan'? How many times were we told, `It won't be long now, but our troops will actually be going there'? How many times did we see the Minister for Defence or one of his surrogates hurry off somewhere with media camera crew in tow to say farewell to a group of individuals who appeared to be going to this war on terrorism when, in fact, on a couple of occasions they were doing nothing more than going on exercises off the Western Australian coast? Yet all of this was sold as some form of an Australia at war. It was sold through the media by this government, with spin doctoring, that in some way this was Australia's major contribution of massive numbers of forces to the war on terrorism, when the reality was very much a different thing. The reality was, for example, in terms of the Gulf, that we simply were asked to do what we had already been doing—that is, retain a frigate on patrol duty to intercept, as part of the blockade, suspect vessels that might have been ferrying contraband cargo out of Iraq. We did that, but that was in some way drummed up as some huge commitment that we made.

We made a commitment for the HMAS Kanimbla to also be part of that, as if it was going to be some major troop-carrying edifice that would sail between Australia and the Indian Ocean as a platform for Australian troops and aircraft and anything else that we could get our hands on to launch some sort of an attack on Afghanistan. Clearly, that was not the case; clearly, that did not happen. The Kanimbla was there; it sailed along. It is a terrific facility—a facility which the government bagged out when Kim Beazley agreed that we would purchase it and have it refitted. Now it is one of the Navy's showcase pieces of military equipment. Yet the impression given was again something that was not in fact real.

The commitment we made about an SAS unit going into Afghanistan was real—there was no doubt about that. But in the election campaign there was the almost frantic image of the Prime Minister waiting for the phone to ring in Canberra from the Oval Office, where President Bush was going to say, `Yes, Prime Minister, all systems go—we now do want the Australians in Afghanistan.' Almost on a daily, frantic basis, the Prime Minister was out there in the media saying, `It won't be long now. We're going to make this huge commitment to the war,' when in fact it did not happen.

Australia played its role in the war on terrorism—a role in concert with the capability that we possess, and an appropriate role. We on this side of the House supported it then and we support it now. Greg Sheridan has referred to the politicisation of Australia's Defence Force, and it is instructive to see the way that, in that element of the lead-up to the last election, the government manipulated the Australian Defence Force for its own cheap political aims.

Over the last couple of days, we have also heard much about the so-called `children being thrown overboard' scandal. We have heard much about the Tampa issue. People in the Australian community know full well that the debate about asylum seekers will continue for some time in Australia. We know full well that there is a need to consider how we are to deal with this problem in order to achieve a long-term solution. But did we see any of that in the Governor-General's speech, written by the Prime Minister? No, we did not. What we know from the Treasurer, who spoke about this here yesterday, is that we have spent about $400 million already on a reverse-colonialism policy. Australia was founded on the back of colonialism from Britain. What we have now is a reverse-colonialism policy where Australia is going out into the Asia-Pacific region and coercing island nations to take people that Australia will not accept for processing. This is an absolute disgrace.

Mr Slipper —Not coercing.

Dr MARTIN —The parliamentary secretary says that it is not coercion. Well, my friend, you go to some of these island nations and have a look at the conditions which unfortunately they enjoy at the present moment. If you come along with a big fat chequebook and say, `We're going to give you these couple of hundred million dollars,' what are they going to say? Do not tell me that it is not coercion.

One of the other issues associated with that is the whole question about what happened with the Tampa, whichagain was part of media manipulation by this government. The Tampa sailed in and the government decided, `This is it: this is the 213th ship that has come here. Don't worry about the 212 that came beforehand; we're not a bit interested in that. Three months out from the election, we're really concerned about the 213th ship, so what are we going to do? We'll send one-third of the Navy to Christmas Island to stop the ship. And not only will we send one-third of the Navy, we'll send the SAS regiment.' If that is not going to grab a headline, I do not know what is: sending the most elite, highly trained regiment—located in Western Australia, not far from the electorate of my friend here at the table, Mr Edwards—to land out of helicopters on the Tampa,television crews filming away. What sort of a signal does that send? The SAS is landing on a vessel because they have picked up some asylum seekers because their boat sank and they want to bring them to Australian territory, Christmas Island.

After the event, a myth was perpetrated by the government that in some way the blockade that was kept off Christmas Island was being conducted by the SAS and major ships of the Royal Australian Navy. In fact, the truth is that the government said to the Navy in Cairns, `We want you to take the brand-new, newly commissioned hydrographic ships, paint them grey instead of the white colour that they are, stick a couple of cannons on the front of them and send them up as a de facto coastguard to sail around Christmas Island to protect us from the poor people sailing in leaky boats who might get there.' What a sensational strategy and way to deal with an issue that requires a regional and international solution! So, again, we see the nonsense of the way in which this government attacked this issue.

Then, when it came to who was taking control on Christmas Island, on the ship itself and on any other ship that might have come around, there was still a myth that the SAS troops were in charge. This might come as a bit of a shock to some people, but they were not. Engineers from Robertson Barracks in Darwin were actually in charge. How do I know? Because I was up there one day when they were being retrained in how to shoot hand pistols and Steyr rifles and trained in hand-to-hand combat in case some of those women and children got a bit violent on Christmas Island! That is what was going on—not SAS troops, but engineers from Robertson Barracks in Darwin, who were put on the island to look after those terribly aggressive women and children that were seeking asylum in Australia! Good on you: what a bunch of champions the government are! What a bunch of champions of media manipulation, sending out messages to confuse an already confused and frightened Australian society, caught in a time when we had ministers running around on the back of September 11 saying, `You never know: there could be a terrorist amongst the asylum seekers. We can't have them coming to Australian soil. Let's find all that money with this Pacific solution and do anything we can to keep them away from Australia.'

Did we see any of that in the Governor-General's speech on Tuesday? Did we see anything being proposed on that by the government? Not one word, and yet the Treasurer came into this place yesterday and said, `It could have been a lot worse, of course—instead of spending $400 million, we might have spent $600 million.' Yet what we are hearing about this Pacific solution is that the government is prepared to put another $200 million per year over the next four years into continuing that process. That is a lot of money. It is a lot of money that I would like to see in my electorate of Cunningham in Wollongong to go some way towards repairing the damage caused by the bushfires over Christmas and the flooding that occurs periodically down my way, where we need to have genuine flood mitigation works put in place. It would go a long way towards seeing some of the hospitals in my electorate receive appropriate funding so that the most modern equipment could be installed. It would go a long way towards doing something about the educational establishments in my electorate that could do with a little bit more security and some more computers. It would certainly go a long way towards fixing up the dreadful circumstances there where thousands of people are waiting for their telephones to be fixed because of the unseasonal weather conditions at the present moment. Telstra cannot do it; in fact, Telstra has been out sacking workers. Instead of projects such as these, we see multimillion dollars in a failed solution that is providing nothing for the future when it comes to refugees and asylum seekers wanting to reach Australia. We see money that could be used to help people in this country simply being used to buy time for the government because they cannot work out a solution.

Equally, in this Governor-General's speech I thought the white flag was being run up when it comes to trade. In the role that I now have in the Australian Labor Party as its shadow minister for trade and tourism, I have to say that I was absolutely flabbergasted and disappointed when I read, on page 7, one paragraph on trade. This is a government that has been out talking for six years about free trade agreements around the world and the region. This is a government that has promised much and delivered nothing when it comes to free trade agreements.

The `Dairy Duo'—the Prime Minister and the Minister for Trade—went to the United States in the last couple of weeks. They went over there and they got together businesspeople from Australia and the United States. They spoke to congressmen; they spoke to O'Neill from the Treasury. They spoke to a whole raft of people. They spoke to the trade representative. What did we get out of it? Did we get any closer to a free trade agreement with the United States? Not a word. What we see in the Governor-General's speech is:

The government will continue to explore the prospects of achieving a free trade agreement with the United States.

And here is the clanger:

This will be very difficult but, if such an outcome can be realised, the benefits for Australia will be significant.

Whoopy-do! We all know that the benefits for Australia would be significant, but we also know that the government seems to have run the white flag up about pursuing it any further. Why is it that after six years and after all the negotiations between Australia and the United States, the best we can do is to come in here and get two lines in a paragraph on page 7 of the Governor-General's speech talking about the free trade agreement with the United States that says, `Well, it's going to be hard and we're not sure if we're going to get there, but six years down the track we're still going to continue to explore the prospect of achieving it'? Six years down the track!

The other issue related to trade which I think is absolutely vital—and I commend the Minister for Trade for his answer in the parliament yesterday—is in respect of steel exports to the United States. My electorate borders the electorate of Throsby in which the Port Kembla steelworks are located, and many workers in my electorate actually work there. We should not understate the problems that will emerge in this country for the steel industry, for jobs and for future exports, if the United States imposes the punitive 40 per cent tariff regime that it is contemplating on the import of steel into that nation. The minister gave a comprehensive answer to a question on that yesterday and, as I said, I compliment him for that. I know he has been working diligently to try to do something about it to get an outcome for Australia.

I am not so convinced about the Prime Minister, because when questioned about this he said, `I wrote to George Bush.' Again, I would have thought an opportunity could have been taken while he was there to do a little bit more than simply write to George Bush about this as an issue. It is of critical concern to Australia in terms of industry policy, in terms of the trade outcomes that we want and certainly in terms of the issues associated with the continuance of a freer trade arrangement between Australia and the United States. Under World Trade Organisation rules I understood that is what we were trying to achieve, but it seems that a letter to the President of the United States from our Prime Minister is about the best that we can expect in terms of how he is going to approach it.

The final thing I want to comment on is something which was glaringly missing from the Governor-General's speech, and that is any reference to how this government is going to look after institutions in this nation. I think there can be no greater institution—and even the Prime Minister admits this—than the institution of the captain of the Australian cricket team. What an absolute disgrace: how Stephen Waugh has been treated by these selectors; the way he was given the message that he was being dropped as a player, let alone the captain, of Australia's one-day cricket team for the coming trip to South Africa! Have a look at the batting averages in the Australian one-day side for this summer. Stephen Waugh has not done that badly, yet for some reason these guys reckon that they know best: they are going to `look to the future' and Waugh is the bunny that is going to go first of all. `It is to prolong his life as the test captain,' they say. I hope they are right on that.

I have to tell you that he is one sportsman that I admire. He is an individual that I admire, not only because of his abilities as Australia's cricket captain and as a superb athlete but because of the way in which he uses that facility to promote international understanding. Most members would know something about the work that he has done in India and in poorer communities. As an individual I do not think you could go much further to find someone who has a genuine commitment to the underprivileged in other parts of the world.

You see him treated in this way, yet did you see the way he handled that disappointment? Can you imagine sitting through the Allan Border Medal ceremony the other night knowing that you have been given the flick and not telling anyone about it, yet going out and doing the job of the Australian captain? Stephen Waugh, I think you will get back in that Australian one-day side. I certainly hope you do; you are a champion. In terms of the rest of this Governor-General's speech: bad luck! (Time expired)