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Wednesday, 22 June 1994
Page: 1870


Senator BOURNE —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Can the minister confirm the accuracy of reports that Indonesia has banned the publication of three news weeklies and removed their licences to publish because of adverse coverage of Indonesian government representatives? Does the government agree that this latest incident proves the inherent fundamental weakness in Indonesia's commitment to freedom of the press? Finally, what action does the Prime Minister intend to take, during his impending visit to Indonesia, to put on record the value all Australians place on a free media, and to give support to all those in Indonesia who are working towards a tolerant, open and democratic society in that country?


Senator GARETH EVANS —The Indonesian government did announce yesterday that the publishing licences for two mass circulation weekly news magazines, Tempo and Editor, and a third news magazine, Detik, were being cancelled. It must be said without qualification that this is a very disappointing development indeed. In recent times, with the support or acceptance of the government, Indonesia has been making very rapid progress towards genuinely free and open expression through a free media, reflecting in that respect the rapidly growing openness which has been developing in the country's economy and society more generally. Yesterday's decision is in sharp contrast to that trend so far as the media is concerned. We hope that it does not signal any wider ranging impositions, and that the magazines in question, sooner rather than later, will be permitted to resume publication.

  As for the Prime Minister, he will continue with his visit to Indonesia next week. Apart from opening the business investment forum and visiting the trade exhibition being held as part of the Australia Today: Indonesia 94 promotion, he will meet President Suharto and have discussions with other senior members of the Indonesian government to discuss a whole range of crucial bilateral and regional issues, including in particular the forthcoming APEC meeting in November which is, as even Senator Alston might be inclined to concede, at the very heart of Australia's policy interests.

  I think it needs to be understood that with Indonesia, and indeed with our other neighbours in the region, we are about building structures, relationships and attitudes which will serve Australia not just for the immediate future, not just between the current leaderships in either that country or ours, and not just at the political level, but for the long haul. The Prime Minister's visit, my visit a couple of days later, and other ministers' visits in the context of the current promotion, should all be seen in that context.

  We will sometimes agree and sometimes disagree with particular policies or actions by governments in our own region, just as those governments from time to time will disagree with particular policies or actions of ours. Our own views on issues such as freedom of the media will not change, and we will state them as occasion demands clearly and unambiguously as I have today. Often, however, it will be rather more productive for those views to be communicated in private rather than in public. As to Senator Bourne's last question, it will be for the Prime Minister's judgment as to how he chooses to convey our concerns on this or on any other current issue during his forthcoming visit.