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Wednesday, 4 June 2008
Page: 4473

Mr MARLES (4:20 PM) —The motion moved by the member for Goldstein in this debate is one of such hypocrisy that even the member for Mayo might be blushing. Here they are raising the whole issue of the Asia-Pacific region when they, in government, had only one foreign policy iron in the fire, and that involved a direct beeline north-east beyond the Pacific to the United States of America. We need a little bit of a reality check here. The fact of the matter is that China is actually important. It is now our biggest overall trading partner, and it is growing. It will, in time—in all likelihood—become the largest economy on the planet, and it is shaping our own economy. It is right that we place a focus on it. But placing a focus on China has not stopped us from having relationships with our other Asia-Pacific partners with a much greater intensity than the Howard government ever did. The Minister for Foreign Affairs, in one of his first major statements to the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said in relation to Japan—if you have a concern about Japan:

Japan has been our closest and most consistent friend in our region for many years.

You do not get clearer than that, and you do not get clearer than the volume of ministerial traffic which has been going up to Japan since the Rudd government was elected into office. You can see similar activity in relation to India, where there is the pursuit of a free trade agreement. You can see similar activity in relation to Indonesia.

When the other side of the House talk about Asia, they completely forget the Pacific—that is, except for the member for Cowan, who has taken the opportunity in this debate to talk about the Pacific in a way to give Papua New Guinea another kick. That only follows on from the legacy of the Howard government. The Howard government took our relationship with Papua New Guinea to its lowest ebb. The only thing they did that was going to be of any use at all was to take police up there, and that initiative fell on its face because of heavy-handed diplomacy. They did not pursue a relationship with Papua New Guinea as equals pursuing a common agenda; they pursued it as Australia acting as superiors seeking to dictate to Papua New Guinea our own agenda. As a result, we saw our ministerial council—our most important bilateral forum with that country—fall into a state of disrepair.

The member for Goldstein is sitting there and in his heart of hearts he is thinking: ‘This is actually about Japan and India. Who cares about Papua New Guinea?’ Let me tell you that Papua New Guinea is our closest neighbour. It is a country which is larger than New Zealand. It has an appalling law and order problem and appalling health problems. It has the lowest life expectancy of any country in the world outside of Africa, and I would think the consequences to our country if that nation fails would be obvious. It is with little surprise that there is a joy to our north about the renewed relationship that they have with Australia through the Rudd government. One of the first prime ministerial visits was to Port Moresby in March, when the Port Moresby Declaration was established—articulating shared goals and responsibilities. We now have the ministerial council up and running and we have a meaningful engagement with Papua New Guinea, and Papua New Guinea has a chance to deal with its problems. At the end of the day we do have a strong voice in the Pacific. The rest of the Asia-Pacific region look to what we say with that voice and the manner in which we exercise our voice. The rest of the Asia-Pacific region looks to us, and they judge us on how we perform in our most immediate region.

Let us be absolutely clear. The Liberal Party made one contribution to policy in the Pacific, and that was the Pacific solution. The Pacific solution set back our relationships with our Asia-Pacific partners by a generation. Labor has a proud record in its engagement with the Asia-Pacific region, stemming right back to Curtin and Chifley projecting into Asia after the Second World War, to Whitlam’s engagement in China and to the Hawke-Keating government seeing our economic future in the Asia-Pacific region. That is where Labor stands. Labor cares about the Asia-Pacific region but understands that, in order to succeed in Asia, we have to care about the Pacific, and Labor intends to do both.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke)—Order! The discussion is now concluded.