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Monday, 4 June 1984
Page: 2409

Senator MISSEN —I refer the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs to my letter of 23 May 1984 to the Acting Foreign Minister, Mr Lionel Bowen, in which I made serious allegations about the actions of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the advice apparently given by the Australian Government to the Papua New Guinea Government about the threatened forcible return of Melanesian refugees to Indonesia. I also refer to my speech on the adjournment on 31 May concerning these matters and other serious charges. I ask the Attorney -General: Firstly, why has no reply been received on these urgent human rights issues? Secondly, when will he reply? Thirdly, having been forewarned, why did he leave the Senate on 31 May while I was speaking on these matters, and why did he not reply to my allegations at that time?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The primary reason why no reply has been received on the major matters raised by Senator Missen is that, in case Senator Missen has not been reading the papers or watching television recently, the Minister for Foreign Affairs is overseas, and it is not desired that a response be given on matters of potentially enormous sensitivity without involvement at the ministerial level rather than the representative level. I am sure, were Senator Missen ever to get within a bull's roar of being in government, he would understand the point that I am making.

As to why I did not hear the whole of his speech the other night, the short answer is that I had other urgent things on my plate, as is again often the case with Ministers, and I cannot expect Senator Missen to appreciate this. His speech was being carefully noted. It was responded to with such information as I was able to give the duty Minister, Senator Ryan. I assure him that his words have not fallen on deaf or unappreciative ears. Beyond that, there is very little more that I can say except that the sensitivity and the importance of the issues that Senator Missen has been concerned to bring to our attention are fully acknowledged. I will make sure that I personally raise the matter with the Minister for Foreign Affairs as soon as he is back in the country.

Senator MISSEN —I ask a supplementary question. I can quite understand the Attorney-General or the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs wanting to wait for the Foreign Minister to return, but if by waiting for the Minister's return some 6,000 refugees will be sent across the border and perhaps slaughtered or badly treated, would not that possiblity be a matter of more importance than the mere convenience of having a Minister in the country?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I have nothing further to add to my previous reply.