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Monday, 10 October 1994
Page: 1300

Senator TEAGUE —My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The minister can only acknowledge that Cambodia is a mess that poses acute problems for Australian foreign policy. I ask: why in his continually optimistic speeches this year about Cambodia has the minister covered up the facts about the grossly corrupt government which has developed there? Why has the minister not responded to General Sanderson's warnings? In particular, why has the minister not publicly responded to former Ambassador Holloway's final, highly critical summary account of last June? And what is his response to the Holloway assessment now? Finally, I ask: why has the minister denied this parliament an informed and frank account of developments in Cambodia?

Senator GARETH EVANS —There are two reasons why I have not responded in detail to that leaked document: firstly, because, in accordance with established government practice, it is not appropriate to comment on leaked documents; and secondly, because in the present circumstances when we are all trying very hard to resolve a very delicate and difficult situation with the hostages, I do not think it would be helpful to do so. However, given the fact that Senator Teague has repeated once again the canard which has constantly been echoed, I have noticed, in newspaper reports and editorial comment over the last few days about my alleged statements on this subject, let me get once and for all the chronology straight.

  It is not the case that the contents of this cable are inconsistent with the assessments that I have been giving publicly about the situation in Cambodia. The last time I did express some very real confidence that things were generally going very well in Cambodia was on the occasion of my last actual visit there in April this year—8 and 9 April. But it was only a couple of weeks after that, on 19 April, that the debacle occurred in which the Khmer Rouge recaptured Pailin from Cambodian government troops with a lot of consequential adverse morale effects flowing from that to the government itself, with a degree of fragility and vulnerability creeping into the administration of the country in a whole variety of ways as a result.

  Since that happened I have been very careful indeed in all of my public statements about the situation in Cambodia and have often pointed to the fragility and vulnerability of the situation and the need for those of us around the world genuinely committed to the country to be prepared to be as helpful as we can and as responsive as we can to this new, very difficult phase in the evolution of the country.

  I make the further point, however, that the cable in question is dated June; it is now October. The sky has not fallen in during the intervening period. I am not entirely clear what Senator Teague or anyone else is getting so excited about. I have never made any secret of the fact that a country such as Cambodia, emerging as it is from decades of civil war and the most horrific abuses of human rights, can hardly be expected to turn into a fully functioning democracy overnight. I have also made no secret of the fact that Australia—and I myself—has constantly made vigorous representations to the highest levels of the Cambodian government and its armed forces about individual cases of abuse, about the need for a widening and deepening of democratic structures and about a general need for reform in a number of governing institutions, not least the military.

  Despite some inevitable hitches along the way, our assessment, and that of others, including people such as Justice Michael Kirby, the UN Special Representative on Human Rights, is that progress is being made on most of these fronts. We, of course, are continuing to play our part in the international effort to reconstruct Cambodia, including in the propagation and consolidation of democratic norms, by providing assistance to the Cambodian government and to non-governmental bodies aimed, among other things, at building and strengthening democratic institutions and the rule of law.

  I continue to believe very strongly, as Mr Holloway does—and let it not be forgotten that this is a central part of the assessment of Mr Holloway, if this document is to be regarded as an accurate representation of his views—that the democratically elected government of Cambodia remains that country's best hope for the future. It is also the case that, as his health permits, King Sihanouk will continue to play a very important role, as will other institutions and people in prominent places in that country.

  I have no intention—this government has no intention whatsoever—of walking away from the responsibility that the international community has taken for Cambodia. I believe that just about everyone else around the world who has taken a responsible interest in this would take a similar view. The key to the country's future prosperity is economic growth and development. That requires security. The alternative—a resurgence of the Khmer Rouge—is simply too horrible to contemplate. Details of how we might best respond to the situation in which the country finds itself are still being worked out by a number of countries with which we have been discussing these things. They will be considered by the Australian government in due course. I do not intend to pre-empt any further decision we might make in this respect by any further comment at this stage.

Senator TEAGUE —Mr Deputy President, I ask a supplementary question. Why does the minister persist in personal defences of assessments he made up to April and has continued to make since? Why is he painting Cambodia and the outcome there with a white brush when his officers are painting it with a black brush? In his reference to the `purported' cable from former Ambassador Holloway, is he saying that the document that he cabled as ambassador is not his cable, does not represent his words, is not his assessment? Finally, I ask the minister to table in the Senate by question time tomorrow all of his written responses and other notes arising from then Ambassador Holloway's final cables before he left his post last June.

Senator GARETH EVANS —Senator Teague can ask all he likes but he is not getting anything of the kind, and he should not expect to. As to whatever else I might have said about purported cables, it is not a matter of casting any doubt other than to say this: when it comes to leaked documents I am not in the business of confirming their status or their content. It is not helpful to any system of government when one is trying to deal with difficult and delicate matters of this kind.

  As to the other part of the supplementary question, Senator Teague simply was not listening to what I said. If he goes back carefully and looks at the chronology of what I have said on the public record in this place and elsewhere, he will see there has been no inconsistency whatsoever.

Senator Teague —In the UN you defended the government of Cambodia.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am defending the continued responsibility of the international community and Australia to do what we constructively can to make that country work. If Senator Teague wants us to walk away from it, if he wants the international community to walk away from it and allow the conditions to be recreated for the resurgence of the Khmer Rouge, then he will have that very badly indeed on his conscience. That is not my position; that is not the government's position; and it is not the international community's position.