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Tuesday, 23 August 1983
Page: 31


Mr COLEMAN(4.37) —It is obvious that very few matters can have as important an influence on the Australian Government's international standing as the decisions and pronouncements of its leaders on foreign policy, on the issues troubling the world. It is these pronouncements that lead other governments to decide whether the Australian Government is responsible or reliable, one with which they can make agreements which will stick and one that can be counted on as an ally in a crisis. The Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) recognised that when, during his visit to the United States of America, he made what must in fairness be called one of his better speeches on foreign affairs. He stressed his determination that Australia would continue the foreign policy of the previous Liberal-National Party Government; that our alliance with the United States was fundamental; that United States bases in Australia were safe; and that Australia was not, and could not be, a non-aligned nation. The Prime Minister realised the importance of all these statements to Australia's standing and reputation in the United States and the world.

But what has happened since is not bipartisan clarity and certainty, but a bewildering confusion which must make foreign governments believe we have one of the more ridiculous, even clownish, governments in the world. I refer, for example, to the Japanese. They witnessed the spectacle earlier this year of the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade (Mr Lionel Bowen) announcing his extraordinarily inept idea of a joint Australian-Japanese peace keeping force in Kampuchea, despite the fact that it would be against the Japanese Constitution and despite fresh memories of Australia's recent involvement in Indo-China. Not only did the Deputy Prime Minister not bother to consult the Japanese; he did not even consult the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden). Headlines in newspapers across the country read: 'Hayden denies knowledge of the Bowen peace plan'. The Deputy Prime Minister was so discomfited by the amazed reaction to his harebrained idea that he stood up in this Parliament and poked out his tongue at the Opposition! To complete his discomfiture, the Foreign Minister, when he was in Japan, took the opportunity not to ask the Japanese army to return to Indo-China, but to criticise moves to increase Japan's extremely low investment in self-defence. The point is that the Japanese must regard the Government as incompetent and will act accordingly in its dealings with us.

The Foreign Minister, however, even outdid the Deputy Prime Minister in fantastic unthought-through ideas. He recently pronounced that Australia should have a naval task force patrolling the Indian Ocean which was independent of the United States Navy. Of course, he had not bothered to discuss this idea with the Minister for Defence (Mr Scholes), who was plainly embarrassed. The absurdity or , rather, the irony of it is that the Foreign Minister's inspiration followed closely on complaints by the Fleet Commander, Rear-Admiral Michael Hudson, that the Royal Australian Navy would have to consider mothballing some of its ships if its fuel stocks were diminished further in the Budget. Already the RAN had planned a 20 per cent cut in fuel allocation this financial year, which has caused the RAN to scale down its participation in next month's Kangaroo 83 exercises in the north-west. Consideration is being given, the Rear-Admiral said , even to paying off our minesweepers to conserve fuel. He said: 'We have just about reached our bottom line'. Yet the Foreign Minister was about to send a naval task force to Africa, without United States support and without helicopters for anti-submarine patrolling or for over-the-horizon surveillance and missile targeting since none of the RAN's destroyers is fitted with these helicopters. Needless to say, the lack of an aircraft carrier-one of this Government's first decisions was to scrap plans for a carrier-makes any real naval presence in the Indian Ocean ridiculously unsafe. Again the point is that this sort of posturing proposal by the Foreign Minister makes the Australian Government seem irresponsible, even absurd, in the eyes of our neighbours and allies.

Let us take another example of the Governments bewildering uncertainty, one to which the Labor Party gives a lot of attention-Central America. The Prime Minister in Washington substantially supported the Reagan policy in Central America. Of course, everyone in this chamber is concerned about violations of human rights in Central America but the fact is that all international observers who were on the spot said that the elections last year in El Salvador were fair and democratic. Let me just refer to the universally-respected Freedom House in New York which sent five observers to the election. Sixty-two per cent of those entitled to vote voted despite threats of murder and mutilation by the guerrillas, and the Christian Democrats, who are well to the left of some members of the Australian Labor Party, got 40 per cent of the vote. This drive to democracy is supplemented by an American-inspired land reform and land redistribution program which so far has been carried out so thoroughly that it is causing reduced agricultural production. So, of course, people concerned to support democracy have to support the Reagan policy and the Prime Minister, to his credit, did so.

But what of the other Ministers? The Minister for Defence Support (Mr Howe) chose a meeting of the Australia-Cuba Friendship Society, of all things, to attack American policy in El Salvador and to urge the Government to extend economic aid to Marxist Nicaragua which is a militarised dictatorship with the largest army in the whole of Central America, which is engaged in genocide against the Miskito Indian population and which fills its gaols with social democrats, dissident communists, Moravian pastors, Jehovah's Witnesses or any opponent of the regime. To round off the tragi-comedy, the Minister for Foreign Affairs used his visit to the United States also to attack the miniscule American military presence in El Salvador which is helping to train the army against the Cuban-backed and Soviet-backed counter-revolutionary guerrillas the Farabundo Marti Front for National Liberation. Again the point is that these public divisions and these uncertainties within the Government's ranks place Australia in an absurd position.

Another example is South Africa. Everyone in this Parliament, certainly everyone in the Liberal Party, finds apartheid abhorrent. Now at last the South African Government has taken what must be called a revolutionary move away from apartheid with its proposals for a new constitution replacing the present Parliament by a tricameral legislature, one House elected by the whites, one by the coloureds and one by the Indians. Whatever criticisms we may make of the proposals-and we can make many because, for example, they still exclude the blacks entirely-the fact is that the proposals are truly revolutionary and are obviously a dramatic move away from exclusive white domination.

What does the Foreign Minister say of these historic developments? He said in his statement of 5 June that they are 'an exercise in attempted deception'. This is strong and offensive language. The South African proposals are in fact such a 'deception' that they have split the Government and have drastically reduced Government support in three by-elections in South Africa. The world knows this, and the world is watching this development away from apartheid in South Africa. But the Foreign Minister can regard these promising signs of change only as a trick. Once again the point is that the Foreign Minister makes himself look ignorant and foolish and consequently makes Australia look ignorant and foolish in the eyes of the world.

There is not time to discuss many other examples such as the Prime Minister's extraordinary new style in foreign policy in France, announcing a major action against France and against French trade just before meeting the French President ; or the Foreign Minister's shuttle diplomacy fiasco in China and Indo-China; or indeed his discourtesy on his visit to South Korea in his attempts to interfere in domestic South Korean politics. There are many other examples. The obvious fact is that far from maintaining a clear, certain and bipartisan foreign policy , as the Prime Minister said his Government would, the Government has created major uncertainties in our international relations and deserves the condemnation contained in this motion.