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Monday, 15 October 1973
Page: 2059


Mr SPEAKER - Order! 'Does the Leader of the Opposition claim to have been misrepresented?


Mr SNEDDEN - Yes. I have been misrepresented by the Minister for Overseas Trade (Dr J. F. Cairns). The honourable gentleman, in answering a question, said that the Chinese Minister for Foreign Trade, Mr Pai, claimed that I had said when I came back to Australia things which were a distortion of the conversations that I had in China as they were reported to Mr Pai. I did not speak to Mr Pai in China. I have not spoken to Mr Pai in Australia. The honourable gentleman nevertheless is prepared to attribute to me statements which on his own admission today, were reported to him, at least third hand. I think it is a misuse of the Parliament to do that. When I came back to Australia I made comments on a number of things, and in relation to China I made comment about 2 specific matters. Those 2 specific matters were trade with Taiwan and the American presence in the Pacific and the Chinese attitude to it.

Whether Mr Pai complained about distortions in relation to either of those 2 matters can be known only to the Minister for Overseas Trade and the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam), in whose presence complaints were apparently made. When I first saw the reports of statements which had been made repeatedly by the honourable gentleman, the Chinese Ambassador never having raised the matter with me, I asked the Chinese Ambassador whether he would come to see me, and indeed he did come to see me. I pointed out to the Chinese Ambassador that it was extraordinary that Mr Pai had complained about anything on 23 July when the Minister for Overseas Trade had felt able to make a statement, portion of which I will shortly read, on 3 August and it was not until 31 August that the Minister first decided to make these matters known. I think the 2 things I spoke about on return to Australia were reported quite accurately insofar as the reports were complete. They were not complete reports. The 2 points I made were these: Firstly, it was not possible for the Australian Government to put a total embargo on all trade with Taiwan nor should the Australian Government seek to do so. That was the first statement I made. Now I would like to know whether or not the Minister for Overseas Trade regards that as a distortion, for if he regards it as a distortion he has to live with his own words contained in a statement made on 3 August in which he said: .

The Australian Government recognises China on the best possible terms-


Mr Uren - Mr Speaker, I take a point of order. Where has the Leader of the Opposition been misrepresented? We want to give latitude to the Leader of the Opposition but I think it is not in order for him to debate the issue.


Mr SPEAKER -Order! I think that the Leader of the Opposition is in order.


Mr SNEDDEN - The Minister for Overseas Trade said in a Press statement on 3 August:

The Australian Government recognises China on the best possible terms for Australia. It preserved other vital national interests that Australia has in China and Taiwan-


Mr Uren - Mr Speaker, I ask: Under what standing order is the Leader of the Opposition entitled to make such a personal explanation? What right has he to quote a statement made by the Minister for Overseas Trade on such and such a date?


Mr SPEAKER -Order! I ask the right honourable gentleman to keep to the point where has was misrepresented and not to go into a full debate on the issue.


Mr SNEDDEN - The Minister for Overseas Trade did not have the decency to say in what way there had been a distortion. I therefore have to make the 2 points that I did report when I came back and show, in relation to the 2 points that I made, not only that I did not distort what I was told in China but also, on the contrary, that what I was told in China is consistent with what the Minister himself has said. If I have distorted, the honourable gentleman has also distorted.


Mr Uren - Mr Speaker, I again ask you: Under what standing order does the Leader of the Opposition have the right to make a speech and debate the issue? If he desires to make a statement he should seek leave to do so and make a speech in that regard.


Mr SNEDDEN - Will you give me leave?


Mr SPEAKER -Order! As all honourable members know, the idea of a personal explanation is to explain where an honourable member has been misrepresented by someone. The right honourable gentleman should confine his remarks to that point.


Mr SNEDDEN - I believe that is exactly what I am doing. There is one paragraph which I have attempted twice to read until the acting Leader of the House, the Minister for Urban and Regional Development - : -


Dr F Cairns - Mr Speaker, I am afraid that if the Leader of the Opposition proceeds in this way we will have to take a certain course of action. He is entitled to say how and where he has been misrepresented by a simple statement from me that the Chinese Minister for Foreign Trade told me, in the presence of the Prime Minister of Australia, that he and his officials had seen reports of what the Leader of the Opposition had said on return from China about discussions with their officials in China. The Chinese Minister said that what the Leader of the Opposition said had been a distortion of what their officials had told him in China. He must claim that he has been misrepresented on that, not on what I said on some other occasion or on the policy in respect of Taiwan. He has to deal with that simple point.


Mr SPEAKER -Order! I think everyone would be aware that it would be impossible for the Chair to ascertain what was said in regard to these matters. I ask the right honourable gentleman to keep to the vital point as to where he was misrepresented by the Minister for Overseas Trade.


Mr SNEDDEN - Yes, Mr Speaker. I was misrepresented by the Minister for Overseas Trade when he alleged that I had made a distortion. I have reported to the House that I spoke on 2 matters - one was trade with Taiwan and the other was the United States presence in the Pacific. I am dealing with the first. Because the Minister did not have the decency to state the distortion, I have to deal with it in its entirety. I will read only one short paragraph of the Press statement by the Minister for Overseas Trade. He said:

The Australian Government recognises China on the best possible terms for Australia, lt reserved other vital national interests that Australia has in China and Taiwan, including trade with both.

I must say that when I told the Chinese Ambassador of that statement by the Minister for Overseas Trade the Chinese Ambassador was staggered. He had no knowledge that that was the attitude of the Minister for Overseas Trade.


Mr SPEAKER -Order! I think the right honourable gentleman is debating this matter. I think he has adequately explained where he was misrepresented.


Mr SNEDDEN - That was in relation to the first matter, Mr Speaker. The second is about the presence of the United States in the Pacific. When I came back from China I said that it was my belief that the Chinese would welcome a United States presence in the Pacific because I believe that there is a very real danger to Australia and South-East Asia if there develops a conflict for hegemony and influence in the Asian region between the Soviet Union and China and in that context there was a real danger to Australia if it developed.


Mr Uren - On a further point of order, Mr Speaker. In what way has the Leader of the Opposition been misrepresented?


Mr SPEAKER -Order! I think I have been very lenient with the Leader of the Opposition but now he is making a debate of this matter. I suggest that if he intends to do so he should seek leave to make a statement.


Mr SNEDDEN - I should like leave to make a statement but I know it would not be granted. However I do not believe it is any part of the proceedings of this House to allow the honourable gentleman to traduce me and not give me the opportunity to make clear, by way of personal explanation, the truth of the matter. I was not present when Mr Pai spoke to him, and what reliance can we place upon the words used by the Minister when they are related to him third or fourth hand?


Mr Uren - I take a point of order. I do not think there are any special Standing Orders for the Leader of the Opposition. He has had ample opportunity to make his personal explanation and I believe he should be kept within the Standing Orders.


Mr SPEAKER -Order! I think the Minister for Urban and Regional Development will recognise that the Chair is not in a position to know what happened in this particular matter. It is true that I have given the Leader of the Opposition great leniency. I now ask him to terminate his personal explanation as quickly as possible.


Mr SNEDDEN - Mr Pai is no more the Chinese Minister for Foreign Affairs than the Minister for Overseas Trade is Minister for Foreign Affairs in this Government and therefore any remarks he makes about foreign affairs should be put in that context.







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