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Wednesday, 27 May 1987
Page: 3409

Mr SINCLAIR (Leader of the National Party of Australia)(2.53) —In the setting in the world in which Australia lies, so rarely do international events have so direct an influence on this country as those that have happened in Fiji during the past few weeks. Indeed, the very spectre of the scene in the Parliament of Fiji is mind boggling. We have read of the intervention by Lieutenant-Colonel Rabuka and the manner of those with him who were dressed in balaclavas and came into the Parliament in their battledress with rifles at the ready. Anyone who understands the parliamentary system of democracy can be only mind boggled that such an event could happen in our region.

Behind those events and the circumstances that, sadly, still beset that island nation, there are profound implications for Australia. It is important that the people of Australia understand that the genesis of those events lies very much within the fabric of the Australian Labor Party, within the left wing of the trade union movement of Australia and the manner in which those in it still impose economic sanctions and still set the guidelines by which this Government acts. Despite ministerial intervention to try to persuade them to change their direction, and despite the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Willis) coming here today and saying that he thinks that the embargo that was placed on the loading of ships will be lifted tomorrow, as of this afternoon it still exists.

It is important that, first, we remember the development of the Labour Party in Fiji-the party that was deposed in the military coup. Much of its genesis lies in the intervention of a man called John Halfpenny. Not so long ago, he was a member of the Communist Party, but now, apparently, he has acquired belated respectability. He is a member of the Amalgamated Metals Foundry and Shipwrights Union and, in his earlier communist affiliations, he saw fit to attend the Soviet Union's meeting of the World Federation of Trade Unions in Prague in 1978. He was one of those who contributed towards the increased involvement of those who were surrogates to the Soviet Union in the Pacific. What has happened in the development of the Fijian Labour Party shows that those who have had political associations with the Soviet Union, with the Communist Party in this country and, through the Australian Council of Trade Unions continue to have an influence on industrial reaction to events that affect Australia's stance in the Pacific, are still seeking to set the political guidelines that impact on this Government and on the Australian people.

I do not wish to go into the nuances of the circumstances of the development of John Halfpenny; I simply refer honourable members to two articles. One is by Michael Barnard in the Age on 26 May, and it illustrates the extent to which the Fijian trade union movement has learned so much from the Australian trade union leaders. Indeed, from statements by left wing academics and those within the trade union movement, it is quite apparent that they regard their greatest achievement as the way in which they have been able to introduce the elements of intervention by Australian trade unions into the minds of those who work within the trade unions in the South Pacific.

My first point is that we need to understand that very much in the way in which the Australian trade union movement seeks to intrude its thinking into the countries of the South Pacific lie the attitudes that have developed within the Fijian Labour Party, and it is against those attitudes that the reaction of the Melanesian people of the Fijian islands have reacted. Part of the difficulty facing this Government in finding a solution to the problem is that it is hoist on the horns of its own dilemma. On the one hand, it has a very strong affiliation with the ACTU. It now has the latter-day respectability of John Halfpenny who, perhaps more than any other, together with Pat Clancy, has tried to determine the format of trade union activity in the South Pacific. They have had a role in applying sanctions, and a role in saying to this Government: `We are not prepared to let Australia find a solution that suits Australia's needs; we are going to find a solution that maintains disruption in the South Pacific and that ensures that there is a climate within which Soviet intervention is possible'. All that we need to do is to recognise that much of the Melanesian nationalism that was expressed in the takeover of the Fijian Parliament was a response to the imposition of external ideologies, most visibly seen in the incursion of Libyan influence in the region-I am delighted that the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) is sitting at the table because I want to say a word or two about that in a minute-but also in the neutralist, non-alignment and anti-capitalist views of the Fijian Labour Party.

We can recognise those who are conservative and traditional within the Melanesian community of the Fijian islands, and who are concerned that the attitudes of the Fijian Labour Party are taking them in a direction that many of them do not want to go. We must remember that not only Colonel Rabuka but others in the Fijian military have been successively involved in international forces in the Lebanon, the multinational force and observers and the Sinai. They have seen other countries use military solutions to their problems, so perhaps it is not too much to accept that they must have learned lessons from that and applied them.

Our concern, however, lies in the impact that this has within Australia. There are three things that I think we need to recognise. The first is that trade union intervention continues. There is no doubt that in the wheat industry-the Foreign Minister and, I hope, the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Kerin) and members of this Government will recognise this-as in so many other fields, the interests of the left wing trade unions of the ACTU are against the interests of Australian exporters, against the interests of preserving living standards, for which some on the other side have little regard, and against the continuity of a grain trade to a nation which at this stage provides about $10m annually in revenue to this country.

What the ACTU and that group of left wing members within the ACTU have sought to do is to put the people of Fiji under a threat-a threat which denies Australian exporters their opportunities for trade and, certainly, puts very real pressures on the Fijian people. All we need to see is the headline in the newspaper which reads `Food supply dwindles as Fiji feels bite of bans', to realise that, as a result of the actions of the ACTU and this Government's inaction with the ACTU, the Americans, so we are told, will take over the supply of foodstuffs, particularly wheat and rice, to Fiji. An all-party delegation has visited the United States and has said how terrible it is that the United States is proceeding within the Congress to introduce more protectionist legislation to protect its farmers. Yet this Government allows the ACTU to impose bans which are directly affecting selling opportunities for Australia and which are running directly contrary to the actions which this Government says it seeks to take with respect to the solution of the problems in Fiji.

The first of the difficulties lies in the field of trade. That follows inevitably because of the degree to which this Government has no ability to tell the trade unions where to get off. That is what lies behind just about every activity that this Government has embarked upon. Yesterday we saw the withdrawal of the industrial legislation. Never mind its withdrawal; we saw the introduction of a piece of legislation which was designed to pass over to the trade unions even greater influence in the control of the economy of this nation. While for electoral purposes the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) belatedly has said that he will leave the legislation on the table, let not anyone be fooled. The same sort of authority that is being exercised in foreign policy by the ACTU bans on trade with Fiji-the extent to which it is the trade unions that determine our foreign policy and not this Government-applies also in regard to economic policy. This legislation was designed to pass over so significantly to the trade unions responsibilities that are best reflected by the denial of the continuation of the exercise of sections 45d and 45e within a common law jurisdiction.

The consequences for Australia do not just lie in trade. Perhaps the more profound area lies in our future stability and security. Without referring to the history of this Government's involvement in defence, it is worth remembering that Paul Dibb, in his report a little while ago, told us:

In South East Asia and the South Pacific, which is Australia's area of primary strategic interest, defence policy has an important role to play in support of our more substantial foreign policy and economic concerns. In this region, our fundamental national security interest is to maintain the benign strategic environment that currently prevails, free from unwelcome external pressures.

It is exactly that that has been changed by the left wing influence within the ACTU, by Mr Halfpenny and the colleagues of the Left of the Australian Labor Party who have vocally expressed their views so often in this place. We need to understand that no longer do we enjoy a benign strategic environment within the South Pacific. That strategic deterioration very seriously affects the whole environment within which Australia's economic planning now takes place.

We have just had a $350m cut in defence spending in the mini-Budget. Those of us who have been concerned with defence for a long while will say that since the introduction of the Cross report-that is, the report of a sub-committee of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, chaired by the honourable member for Brisbane (Mr Cross)-some 2 1/2 years ago, there has been no improvement in our short term deployment capability and combat sustainability. The Dibb report said: `Never mind what happens outside your region'. Do honourable members remember the way in which coastal continental defence was extended and the way in which it talked about low level insurgencies? That was the area of prime strategic concern as far as Paul Dibb was concerned. While the White Paper has broadened it a little, the reality is that Australia today is unable to maintain to any degree our ability to provide a combat force against a resisted landing. Our amphibious capability is virtually nil and our ability to be able to play, even if we should wish, any military role in the South Pacific is limited. Indeed, our regional maritime surveillance system, our airborne early warning system, is totally lacking. We all know that manpower resignations are at a level which creates enormous difficulties in maintaining our defence presence. Yet we are faced in this region with a deteriorating strategic circumstance. It is no longer benign, to use the words of Paul Dibb.

We know that within the Department of Defence we have not only moved away from the 3 per cent recommended in the Dibb Report-that is, the 3 per cent of expenditure in order to maintain a reasonable level of defence output-but also, thanks to the mini-Budget, there is a level of growth of minus one per cent. The result will be a significant reduction in funds available for defence at a time when, should we wish, we are unable to maintain any sort of a military presence in this region.

The consequences for Australia are concerned with trade; the implications of the involvement of the left wing members of the trade union movement within the ACTU; and the imposition of industrial bans affecting Australia's trade and export returns. The implications for this country are concerned with the fact that the left wing of the trade union movement sets Australia's foreign policy. The implications are very profound in a deteriorating strategic circumstance in our region and a declining defence capability towards which we must react.

Apart from that there is something which is still more profound-that is, the degree to which this Government has walked away from providing any sort of reasonable reaction to the difficulties in the region. I have said on a number of occasions that it should have been possible for Australia to have utilised the South Pacific Forum, to have in some way played a positive role. We heard how the Foreign Minister has been totally ignored by the Prime Minister in the expulsion of the Libyans. We need only remember that it was the Foreign Minister on 1 May who said:

There is absolutely no evidence that the Libyan People's Bureau is involved in anything that we would regard as disturbing and untoward and seriously disruptive in this region.

What happened? On 19 May Bill was overseas. Bob said: `No, don't come back, Bill. You might do something sensible. We don't want you in Australia to handle the most serious foreign policy crisis in which we have been involved'. So he expelled the Libyans. But we see that Bill and Bob together will attend the South Pacific Forum this weekend--

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) —Order! The Leader of the National Party should refer to Ministers and other office holders by their titles.

Mr SINCLAIR —The Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister will attend the South Pacific Forum on Friday and Saturday this week. They have been able to persuade the Fijians not to attend, if we believe the news- paper reports. But why the devil could they not go along to the South Pacific Forum, or have convened an urgent meeting of it, to try to persuade the Melanesian powers of this region to see whether there was a possibility of a return to democracy? They could not do so because the left wing of the trade union movement holds this Government by the throat. The Government introduced adverse legislation yesterday. In the same way, in regard to foreign policy, this Government is a failure.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The right honourable member's time has expired.