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Tuesday, 29 May 1984
Page: 2100

(Question No. 782)


Senator Reid asked the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs, upon notice, on 2 April 1984:

(1) Did Australia's Ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation-UNESCO-on 10 January 1984, at a meeting of the Western European Group and others, criticise the American decision to withdraw from UNESCO.

(2) Did Mr Whitlam, at that meeting, personally attack his predecessor, Professor Harries, describing him as 'not really a professor and not really an Australian'.

(3) Does Mr Whitlam, as Australia's representative at UNESCO, reflect the views of the Government.

(4) Why does the Government hold these views.

(5) Were Mr Whitlam's remarks first cleared with the Department or the Minister for Foreign Affairs/Prime Minister.

(6) If Mr Whitlam's views were personal expressions, does the Minister agree that the Ambassador went beyond the bounds of reasonable and proper diplomatic behaviour.

(7) Was Mr Whitlam given a brief, by the Government, to try and mediate between UNESCO and the United States over the American decision to withdraw from the organisation.

(8) Does the Government agree that Mr Whitlam has failed to implement the brief .

(9) Will Mr Whitlam be recalled for 'consultations' with the Department of Foreign Affairs, if he is not able to carry out his instructions as ambassador.


Senator Gareth Evans —The Minister for Foreign Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

(1) and (2) Meetings of the member states of the various geographical groups in UNESCO, and in other United Nations bodies, are normally held in private and it is not customary for governments to state publicly what their representatives have said in such meetings. However, at the meeting in question Mr Whitlam expressed some disappointment at the United States' decision to withdraw from UNESCO. He did not dispute the decision, but looked towards elaboration of American concerns that might help other countries in addressing UNESCO's particular problems.

(3) Yes. While Australia shares some of the United States' concerns about UNESCO's performance, it has made clear its preference for the United States to remain in the organisation.

(4) The Government is concerned that a United States withdrawal would deprive UNESCO of a substantial intellectual and practical input into its programs and would mean the loss of a quarter of its budget funds. This would affect adversely the useful work that UNESCO continues to perform which benefits its member states.

(5) The meeting was private and informal. There was nothing in Mr Whitlam's remarks which would have required prior clearance from the Minister or Department of Foreign Affairs, or the Prime Minister.

(6) No. Mr Whitlam's comments conformed with normal diplomatic behaviour.

(7) No. However, the Government is committed to working for improvements in UNESCO which might enable the United States to remain in the organisation. Mr Whitlam has played an active part in discussions and negotiations to this end in Paris.

(8) No.

(9) It is normal practice for ambassadors to return to Australia during a posting for leave and consultations with the Department of Foreign Affairs and other interested departments. Mr Whitlam recently returned to Australia to address a meeting of the Australian National Commission for UNESCO. His return also enabled him to discuss with the Government a range of UNESCO issues. The Government sees no further need for him to return to Australia on consultations for the time being. It has every confidence in his work as Australia's permanent delegate to UNESCO.