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Wednesday, 16 March 1977
Page: 254


Mr THOMSON (Leichhardt) - I welcome the detailed and objective statement by the Foreign Minister (Mr Peacock) which sets out Australia's attitudes to our global problems in foreign affairs. This is the most comprehensive and far-reaching statement in many years. I congratulate the Foreign Minister on grasping so many difficult nettles at one time. He has given us a realistic view of the world as it is, not necessarily the world as we would like it to be. It is a changing world in which many old certainties have been swept away. For the first time we in Australia must think independently and for ourselves in both our foreign policy and our defence policy. We are not used to doing this. There is a need for us to have clearly stated aims and objectives in both foreign affairs and defence. I believe that much hard work needs to be done in this field, recognising our new place in our region and in the world. This will not be easy. It will require both imagination and originality- qualities which have not often been very evident or perhaps even very necessary in our past thinking.

Our national aims and objectives should be a combination of political, geographical, economic and military factors, preferably compatible but often, regrettably, conflicting. Until we define our national aims precisely there is a danger that we will make ad hoc and short term decisions. The Foreign Minister's statement goes a long way towards clarifying many difficult issues. Other speakers in splendid historical speeches have dealt more than adequately with the past. The honourable member for Fremantle (Mr Beazley) was outstanding in this regard. Regrettably, some other speeches have been less than relevant to Australia and its place in the world.

It is impossible to range the world and all our problems in 1 5 minutes. I want to speak of the future, not the past, and to bring the discussion much closer to home. I welcome the Foreign Minister's statement on the Indian Ocean. He makes a very real point, namely, that it can become a zone of peace only if it first becomes a zone of balance. As the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) stated last week and as the Foreign Minister repeated yesterday, our concern is that this balance be achieved at the lowest practicable level. We should welcome and support any lessening of tension in the Indian Ocean- an area which of course is of vital importance to us. Personally I would be against dismantling the facilities on Diego Garcia unless the Soviet Union dismantled its facilities in Berbera and elsewhere in the Indian Ocean. Even then there would be great risks.

The honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) spoke at some length about Indonesia. Indonesia, with its vast population, its potentially great resources and its many islands stretching across our northern doorstep, is the most important country to Australia in South

East Asia. We must do all in our power to maintain and expand good relations with Indonesia. The Foreign Minister gave an excellent summary of the problems inherited by the Government from the Labor Administration in relation to East Timor. The situation is difficult and very delicate, and I am convinced that the present problems are not best served by passionate discussion in this chamber. The Foreign Minister made the same point in answering a question during question time today.

I turn very briefly to Papua New Guinea. Much has been said already about our relations with Papua New Guinea. It is imperative that our present close relations with Papua New Guinea be expanded and developed. The southern coast of Papua is only about 5 kilometres from the northern part of my electorate; so all the people in the electorate of Leichhardt, including myself, are very much aware of the significance of our relations with Papua New Guinea. Several times recently I have been questioned on why we give so much aid to Papua New Guinea. I believe that as the former colonial power we have a great responsibility to help the splendid efforts of the Papua New Guinea Government in developing the country and improving the sometimes very low standard of living of the people. I know New Guinea fairly well, and I strongly support the level of aid which we are giving. It is an insurance policy for the future, and I am sure that it will pay handsome dividends and bonuses. I have similar views on the necessity to continue to give aid to Indonesia. This aid is not large, but it is significant in showing our goodwill towards this very important neighbour.

Much more controversial is the modest aid program which we have initiated for Vietnam. The Foreign Minister makes the point that the Socialist Republic of Vietnam has a population of 50 million and military forces which are the largest in South East Asia. We should not forget that a great many Vietnamese supported Australian forces in Vietnam over a number of years, often at great risk to themselves. Our small aid program for Vietnam is for both humanitarian and political reasons, and it concentrates on agricultural development. I have travelled over all of South Vietnam, and I believe that we owe this modest aid to the people.

I turn briefly to our neighbours in the South Pacific. Many of them have become independent recently or will become independent shortly. They are of increasing importance to Australia. I agree with the Foreign Minister when he says that previous governments of all parties have not given the South Pacific the attention it deserves, and I welcome the increased attention we are giving to this area. The greatly increased aid program which was announced recently, of $60m for the 3 years from 1976 to 1979, 1 am sure will have the support of all Australians. By comparison with most of the other countries in our region, we are an extremely wealthy country, and we have a responsibility to share some of our wealth with our less fortunate neighbours.

Perhaps I am the only member of this House who has difficult foreign policy problems within his own electorate. The Foreign Minister is not used to private members banging on his door with problems. I thank him for the patience and understanding he has shown to me. One of the most difficult problems with which I am faced is the definition of the boundary between Australia and Papua New Guinea in the Torres Strait. This is a very difficult problem, and it must be resolved so that the people of the Torres Strait remain Australian citizens and the islands and the territorial seas around them remain Australian and Queensland territory and seas. I last spoke on this important matter in the House on 16 November last year. Now, as then, I welcome the agreement which has been reached between Australia and Papua New Guinea that a protected zone should be established in the area confirming the traditional rights of the Torres Strait Islanders and the coastal Papuans.

I have had many discussions with the leaders of the Torres Strait, the last one being just before question time today. I hope that the leaders with whom I spoke are in the gallery behind me listening to this speech. The Torres Strait Island leaders are agreed that the resources of the Torres Strait in the protected zone outside the Australian islands and the territorial waters should be shared equally between Australia and Papua New Guinea. I strongly support their views on this. I also support their contention that there should be no sea bed line within the protected zone. They believe that such a line would cause much future friction in the area.

The Torres Strait Islanders are a fine, determined and independent people. They have recently produced their own solution to the difficult task of the definition of boundaries. In recent months the leaders of the Torres Strait, together with the leaders of the coastal Papuans, have worked closely to define what they know to be the traditional boundary between their 2 countries. Together they have agreed on the exact line of their traditional boundary, a boundary which was recognised long before Europeans came to the Torres Strait. I strongly support the contention of both the Torres Strait Islanders and the Papuans that it is this traditional boundary which should be recognised by both Australia and Papua and New Guinea and not any one of the various arbitrary lines which have been drawn on the map, often by people who have never been to the area. A traditional boundary line recognised by both the coastal Papuans and the Torres Strait Islanders is infinitely preferable to an arbitrary line imposed by outsiders. I commend this solution to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and to the Government.

Now I turn briefly to the Law of the Sea Conference. I was very interested in the statement by the Foreign Minister on the deliberations of this conference. A number of states have already declared a 200-mile economic zone. In due course I would strongly support a declaration of a 200-mile economic zone by Australia. This involves giving states jurisdiction over the living and non-living resources of the sea and the sea bed up to 200 miles from the coast. Such a declaration by Australia would have great significance in my electorate, particularly in the Gulf of Carpentaria and in the area of the Great Barrier Reef. There is constant friction between local fishermen and foreign fishing vessels in the area. A declaration by Australia of a 200-mile economic zone would effectively close the Gulf of Carpentaria and would protect the marvels of the Great Barrier Reef from ruthless pillage by foreign fishermen. A 200-mile economic zone poses enormous problems for Australia. The sea area involved is almost as large as the land mass of our continent. The task of surveillance and defence of this vast new area is an immense responsibility. I know that the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) is very concerned about the solution to this problem. We will need to spend very much more to provide surveillance and protection in this area.

I agree with the Foreign Minister's statement that we should do our best at the next Law of the Sea Conference not to prejudice the success of the conference. If the conference fails to reach agreement, we would have little alternative but to unilaterally declare a 200-mile economic zone. Once again I congratulate the Foreign Minister on his statement. I hope that it will generate public discussion on the need for a bipartisan approach to the problems of Australia's place in our region and the world.







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