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Tuesday, 26 February 1985
Page: 183

Senator SIBRAA —Is the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs aware that a former French Foreign Minister has accused Australia and New Zealand of bias and self-interest over France's departure from New Caledonia? Is the Minister also aware of the rumour in New Caledonia that the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs task force on New Caledonia has a military role? Can he comment on these matters?

Senator GARETH EVANS —Australia's policy towards New Caledonia is well known, as has been made clear by the Prime Minister and Mr Hayden on a number of occasions. The recent tensions in New Caledonia no doubt helped give rise to rumours, including some manifestly absurd ones. One such rumour alludes to the departmental emergency task force which Mr Hayden directed be established following the declaration of a state of emergency in New Caledonia by the French authorities. The rumour asserts that this task force, interpreted as a force de frappe, has some kind of military role. I am happy to assure the Senate that this rumour is utterly without foundation. The task force consists solely of officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs. It is charged primarily with looking after the consular interests of Australian residents and tourists in New Caledonia. The Noumea media translation of the expression 'task force' into French appears to have added to the misunderstanding. New Caledonia is, of course, for the moment anyway, an overseas territory of France. France has the responsibility for law and order and defence arrangements for that territory, and it is no business of Australia's.