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Thursday, 26 February 1987
Page: 799


Mr CROSS —Has the attention of the Minister for Foreign Affairs been drawn to a Press statement released very recently in Tokyo by the Premier of Queensland, Sir Johannes Bjelke- Petersen? Does this statement attack the Australian economy in a way which will discourage foreign investment in Australia and undermine negotiations conducted in Japan by the Australian minerals industry? Is it a fact that the very highly regarded Brisbane commentator, Haydn Sargent, has described this action as `bordering on treachery'? Is the Minister yet in a position to assess the damage that has been caused, or is likely to be done to the national interest, by this action of the Queensland Premier?


Mr HAYDEN —I have seen both a copy of the Premier's statement and the reports which seem to be accurately interpreting that statement. I would describe its effect as wantonly reckless and extraordinarily damaging. It will undermine delicate negotiations in Japan on the part of Australian mineral exporters. It will discourage Japanese investment in this country. It will erode quite seriously the good work which the Prime Minister did in reassuring potential Japanese investors and industrialists who were in this country a little earlier this year. It will weaken the undertakings which were given to the Japanese in respect of consultation with the trade union movement to improve industrial relations. It will certainly erode seriously the positive advances which were evident in the dialogue between Australian Ministers and Japanese Ministers at the Australia-Japan Ministerial Committee meeting in Canberra a few weeks ago.

Nothing that the Premier has said is justified. The consequence will be that Australia will be the loser, and I suspect will be quite a serious loser. I am so concerned about the potential impact of the Premier's reckless statements in Tokyo that I have asked the Department of Foreign Affairs to carry out quickly an assessment of their likely impact and to come up with recommendations, hopefully for some sort of damage control. An article in the Courier-Mail- it is an accurate account according to a statement that the Premier has released-headed `Australia in big trouble, Sir Joh tells Japanese', states:

Sir Joh's statement contradicted the image of Australia that the Australian embassy had been trying to promote in Japan.

The statement said Australia had militant union leaders and high taxes, there was little confidence in the Australian dollar and Australia had not yet begun a sustained economic recovery.

`Someone with determination and decisive action is needed to cut taxes in Australia, restore incentive and control militant union leaders,' Sir John was quoted as saying.

`Only then can Australia begin sustained economic recovery.'

It is quite clear from the context of that extract from the report that the Premier was aiming at extending his battle against the coalition partners and this Government into Japan. It is one thing to conduct that sort of crude political brawl in this country-Australians, not that far removed from the frontiers of pioneer settlers in this country, are used to rather direct and sometimes cudgel-using exchanges-but it is another thing to go to Japan, one of our most important trading partners and the third most important investor in this country, and conduct that sort of unseemly and unhelpful debate there. The attack was as much against the coalition partners as it was against the Government. There has been a long-standing tradition, which I have certainly always followed-I believe that predecessors of mine in this job and indeed the Leader of the Opposition and I when I was Leader of the Opposition have followed this tradition when we were overseas-not to engage in comments which would belittle our country or undermine what the Government might be trying to do in the eyes of other countries. It does not help this country.

Haydn Sargent, a popular and respected radio commentator in Brisbane, had something to say about the Premier this morning. He was summing up the feelings of a lot of Australians who were aware of this comment and hordes of Australians after more of them become aware of it. He said:

I think it's one of the most irresponsible, disloyal and treacherous things that an Australian politician has ever done.

He went on to say:

You see whether he likes it or not, whether he realises it or not, when you get out of Australia, Joh Bjelke-Petersen is an Australian as far as the Japanese are concerned.

That is the salient and telling point. He is not a National Party Messianic leader about to create his own party on the ashes of the leaders of the Liberal Party and the National Party in this Parliament; he is an Australian-an elected representative speaking for Australia. Haydn Sargent goes on:

Now he may have been called Mr President when he was in Turkey, and he may have had motor-cycle escorts and a lot of saluting and tooting, but he's still just the Premier of the State of Queensland. And I think that for the Premier of the State of Queensland to go to the trouble of issuing a press statement to the media of Japan in which he undermines the economy of Australia-

the phrase `undermines the economy of Australia' is a quite accurate account of what the impact of the statement will be-

in the minds of the Japanese borders on treachery.

So it does! His statement concludes:

I think it is just so stupid and so childish and so irresponsible that it almost defies description. I cannot believe that he would do it, but he's done it and it makes you wonder sometimes about the loyalty of the man ultimately to Australia. You don't bag your nation.

I have never bagged this nation, nor any government of this nation, when I have been overseas. The Leader of the Opposition and my predecessor, as Foreign Minister, have not either. One does not do that sort of thing to one's country. One does not do it at a time like this when we are in an extremely difficult situation and when very delicate negotiations have gone on with the Japanese, both in the public sector and in the private sector, to try to improve confidence.

One thing that struck me earlier this year at a luncheon at Kirribilli House hosted by the Prime Minister, at which several Japanese Ministers were present, was that the Prime Minister had to go to great lengths to reassure them about industrial stability in this country. The trade union official who was present-the President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Simon Crean-gave undertakings which were then presented in the papers. They were enormously reassuring to these Japanese Ministers who, in turn, will be very influential on Japanese investors. That has been undermined by nothing more than a tissue of lies. Our relationship with Japan is important. Two-way trade totals $17.6 billion. Japanese investment in Australia, which is about $1.7 billion, is third behind the United States of America and the United Kingdom. The trade relationship is especially important to Queensland and, more particularly, to the export of coal.

The Queensland Premier could have said certain things to help this country, to help his State and to help the people in Queensland whom he and I represent. I know their difficulties; he does not seem to be conscious of them. He could have quoted the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development December forecast which shows a growth rate in gross domestic product of 3.25 per cent for Australia which is greater than the OECD average. He could have illustrated the fact that nearly 700,000 jobs have been created since 1983 by the Hawke Government. He could have mentioned that there has been a 5 per cent growth rate annually for three years in succession. He could have drawn on the fact that working time lost through industrial disputation is one-third lower than in the Fraser years. He could have mentioned also, as much as he would have found it hard to be candid, that, unlike the Queensland Budget, the Federal Government Budget deficit has fallen every year since 1983.

The man deserves to be scourged as one who has failed to live up to his public office responsibilities to this country, to private sector industry, to exporters, to investment and to future growth potential and opportunities for Australia. It is a shame that he sought to play such a cheap Jack political stunt in Japan as an extension of his conflict with his own colleagues and his hatred for this Government, thereby undermining the best interests of this country.