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Thursday, 19 February 1987
Page: 366


Mr HOWARD (Leader of the Opposition) —by leave-As with all statements of this kind made by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) after his return from overseas visits, the Opposition welcomes the courtesy the Prime Minister has shown to the Parliament in reporting on the details of his visit. There are aspects of the Prime Minister's overseas visit that the Opposition views in a constructive light. We acknowledge the fact that the Prime Minister endeavoured, while he was in the Middle East, to make his way through the mine-field of Middle East policies with some care. We express the hope that there will always be in this Parliament bipartisan support for the maintenance of the territorial integrity within secure boundaries of the state of Israel. The Liberal and National parties have been second to none in their support of the state of Israel over the years. To the extent that the Prime Minister follows the approach that he has followed in relation to Israel, he will continue to have our support.

There is equal bipartisan support for the proposition that there is a Palestinian problem and the need for a just and peaceful solution which takes account of the fundamental rights of the Palestinians. The Prime Minister is also correct in stressing that Australia cannot be a principal party to achieving resolution of these matters. If we are to have any role it must be in conjunction with our allies, rather than acting by ourselves. The Prime Minister made the obvious point that progress towards peace in the region could be made if both sides were to issue a simultaneous statement acknowledging each other's existence. But in the nature of the real world something of that kind is hard to conceive at present. Neither Peres nor Shamir accepts that the Palestine Liberation Organisation is reconciled to Israel's continued existence. In our view, we think that the Prime Minister is guilty of an overly generous interpretation of PLO policy. It certainly contrasts with the interpretation given by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) on 31 January, when he said:

There has been a long-standing attitude on the part of all political parties that the PLO, by its declared policy stands for the destruction of the state of Israel, and while that stands . . . we find it unacceptable to have PLO representatives visit.

I say on behalf of the Opposition: Long may that remain the attitude of the Foreign Minister. It will certainly remain our attitude. The very contemplation of representatives of the PLO visiting Australia is abhorrent to all members of the Liberal and National parties. We do not attach a great deal of hope to the idea of an international conference, many of whose major participants would have widely differing interests. It is difficult to accept proposed Soviet Union involvement in an international Middle East peace conference. The Prime Minister's support for that conference, of course, is at odds with the Israeli Government's position. We understand Israel's view that it should not be forced to participate in an international conference when one of the major parties, the Soviet Union, does not recognise it and with the PLO, which is committed to the elimination and destruction of Israel.

The Opposition's view is that Soviet Union participation must depend on a changing attitude to Jewish emigration. We will welcome and support efforts to persuade the Soviets to relax restrictions on Jewish emigration and we acknowledge the continued personal interest of the Prime Minister in this matter. It is to be regretted that Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union over the years has declined to a mere trickle from 51,320 in 1979 to 914 in 1986.


Mr Peacock —The second lowest total ever.


Mr HOWARD —The second lowest total ever, as the shadow Foreign Minister interjects. The Opposition might be less sceptical of Secretary-General Gorbachev's latest public relations push, promoting greater openness within the Soviet Union, if he gave substance to it by reversing that country's anti-Jewish policy. The issue of Jewish emigration from the Soviet Union must be a priority during the visit to Australia of the Soviet Foreign Minister. The bona fides of both the Government and the Opposition on this issue will, of course, be a subject for discussion.

I would hope that high on the list of matters to be raised with the Soviet Foreign Minister when he visits Australia is in the continued Soviet military suppression of Afghanistan. I certainly hope that the present Foreign Minister does not adopt the attitude of the present Treasurer (Mr Keating) in 1979 when he was asked about Afghanistan and his reply was: `Who cares about Afghanistan? Where is Afghanistan?'. That is rather reminiscent of some remarks made about Czechoslovakia in the late 1930s.

In these brief remarks I must draw attention to the public relations and diplomatic disaster that surrounded the invitation to Israel's Trade Minister Sharon to visit Australia. On behalf of the Opposition, I ask the very simple question: If in fact his visit is unacceptable to the Government-that is now clearly the case, despite all of the tissue-thin excuses that were offered for the cancellation of the visit-why on earth was the invitation extended in the first place? Why on earth did the Prime Minister personally approve the invitation to the Israeli Trade Minister and why on earth are we having the foreign policy of this country dictated to the Government by the reaction of PLO sympathisers in Australia? The concerns that different Australians may have about Sharon were well known before the invitation was issued. It is an absolute diplomatic bungle of the first magnitude for the Government not to have recognised that in the first place. But for the Prime Minister to have approved the visit and then appear to be backing down-in reality it did back down-to pressure exerted by PLO sympathisers in Australia holds the Government and this country up to ridicule.

The Prime Minister concluded his trip by visiting what has now become a symposium resort of very considerable note, and that is Davos in Switzerland. That is where the Prime Minister's overseas visit went from the realm of, in some areas, attracting bipartisan support and bipartisan sympathy to the realm of the ridiculous and the absurd. He is the Prime Minister of a country whose gross overseas debt has gone beyond $100 billion, a country that had the worst current account deficit in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in 1986, a country that now has the worst inflation rate, relative to the OECD, since that organisation was formed almost 30 years ago, and a country that has followed policies that have reduced the competitiveness of its own farmers by imposing new levels of taxation and new imposts on those farmers.

The spectacle of that Prime Minister standing up in front of an international business audience and delivering a sermon and a lecture about freer trade, and virtually declaring to the business world that, if people wanted to successfully invest in this country, as well as comply with the laws of this country, they had to negotiate with the de facto Foreign Investment Review Board of Australia-that is, the Australian Council of Trade Unions-to see that their business deals were acceptable to the trade union movement, is where the Prime Minister's overseas visit completely lost the Opposition and a very substantial section of the community.

It is in that area that the Prime Minister's overseas visit descended into low farce and attracted many a horse laugh, given the appalling economic performance of this Government and the fact that, particularly over the past year, not only have we seen our balance of payments disintegrate and our inflation rate and interest rates soar, but also we have seen our once proud AAA credit rating grabbed from us by the two most prestigious rating agencies in the world. The Prime Minister's performance at Davos rang very hollow with those millions of Australian families who recognise that, whatever fine words he may deliver at an international symposium, his performance on economic management in Australia has been less than satisfactory, to say the least.

I conclude by saying that, to the extent to which the Prime Minister advances the cause of reconciliation, and promotes it, in the Middle East-whenever he goes overseas-he will have our support. He will always have our support in defending the integrity and the independence of the state of Israel. To the extent that he promotes the cause of effective disarmament, he will have our support. However, to the extent that he continues his rather short-sighted and stupid opposition to the American Administration's strategic defence initiative, he will not have our support. To the extent that he continues his Government's misguided policy of adopting an attitude of moral equivalence towards the activities of the Soviet Union and the United States of America so far as world peace is concerned, he will not have our support. Until he and his Foreign Minister are prepared to pass the same moral strictures on the Soviet Union as they heap almost day by day on governments such as the South African Government, many people on this side of the House and in the Australian community will continue to regard the foreign policies of this Government as riddled with many double standards and many hypocrisies.