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Thursday, 17 October 2002
Page: 5404


Senator BROWN (3:02 PM) —My question without notice is to Senator Hill, Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I refer to the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which states that while countries may have their diplomats gather information in other countries:

They also have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State.

Did the US Embassy or anyone from the Bush administration contact the government before their representatives went to Wollongong to question candidates in the Cunningham by-election about issues such as the impending war in Iraq? Did the government respond? Is this not a breach of that Vienna convention? Does the government recollect any similar incursions into Australian domestic affairs in the past?


Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I notice that Susan Crystal, the Counsellor for Public Affairs for the US Embassy, has put out a statement on this matter. I think it confirmed that the US Embassy was sending three officials to Wollongong to talk to candidates and others to gauge public sentiment. She said that the visit is part of `routinely sending back information to the United States about the feeling of the electorate on particular issues'. She is quoted as saying, `As you may be aware, many embassies from many countries around the world—certainly the American embassy—routinely send back information to our host governments, in this case the United States, about various things that are going on in the country in which we are serving.' On that basis there does not seem to be any issue of interference and therefore the Vienna convention is not relevant. Was the Australian government contacted about the matter? I do not know but I would not have thought so.


Senator BROWN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Does the government not see that this is a clear breach of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations? While I will be very happy to meet these representatives with Greens candidate Michael Organ tomorrow in Wollongong, I ask again, Minister: has this ever occurred in Australian history and has there ever been an occasion where an Australian diplomat has gone to question candidates for election in the United States about domestic affairs or indeed foreign affairs in that country?



The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Kemp, come to order.


Senator HILL (Minister for Defence) —I am not sure they would learn much from a Greens candidate—


Senator Carr —Tell us who the Liberal candidate is.


Senator HILL —If I were a member of the Labor Party, I would worry about how the Labor Party is going to go.


Senator Sherry —You can't even field a candidate!


The PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Nick Sherry and Senator Carr, come to order, please.


Senator HILL —I do not think there is any evidence of interference, as I said. This is a free country. If they ask to interview a candidate they can do so, and whether the candidate wishes to respond is up to the candidate.