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Wednesday, 27 February 1985
Page: 244

Senator TEAGUE —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. I seek clarification of the Government's decision not to provide the logistic support requested by the United States of America for its MX testing, despite the deterrent importance of the MX. Are we to understand from the Government that until the first week of February it was the view of the Prime Minister, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Defence, and the Ambassador for Disarmament that the nature of Australian support requested by the US was such that rejection of the request would remove Australia's credibility with our ally, especially with regard to disarmament and arms control? More specifically, why then was it that during the first week of February the Prime Minister unilaterally decided to reject that request? I say 'reject' notwithstanding the fact that the US was finally forced to withdraw the request.

Senator BUTTON —I do not remember the exact dates to which Senator Teague referred in his question but, yes, it is true that four Ministers in the Government decided, at an early stage, that the agreement entered into by the Fraser Government to provide logistic support for the MX tests should be carried out, subject to some modification of the terms of that agreement. I think it is important that we understand what were the terms of the agreement as entered into by the Fraser Government. The only public announcement about the terms of that agreement was made by Mr Sinclair on a PM program one night, when he was asked about the agreement. He said: 'Yes, we agreed to that. It was like arranging to play tennis. We said: ''Let's have a game some time. We will fix the time and place at a later stage''.' The agreement was as sloppy as that. It was just like agreeing to play tennis, in the words of the former Minister of Defence in the Fraser Government.

It is true that four Ministers agreed to that. The Prime Minister did not unilaterally change his mind, as suggested in Senator Teague's question. He decided that in consultation with a number of colleagues. All this is a matter of public record so I do not know why Senator Teague, unless he belongs to the ranks of Senator Withers and never reads newspapers, regurgitates these things during Question Time in the Senate. Insofar as it was a unilateral rejection, as it was put, the facts are clear. By the time the Prime Minister reached the United States, the United States Government had reached a decision on this matter.

Senator Missen —Face-saving-that is all that was.

Senator BUTTON —Face-saving on whose part? Either on the part of the United States Government--

Senator Missen —Your Prime Minister.

Senator BUTTON —Is that so? So the United States of Government went out of its way to save the Prime Minister's face? That is all right. So what? I doubt whether the United States Government would go out of its way to save the face of the Opposition of this country. When the Prime Minister arrived in the United States a statement was made by Mr Shultz on the United States Government's attitude, and that statement has been read into the Senate Hansard. They are the facts of the matter, and I would have thought that everybody would have been aware of them, except perhaps Senator Teague.

Senator TEAGUE —I ask a supplementary question. Putting aside the Minister's personal references, because this is a matter of importance. I ask for clarification. When it meant overriding the long term security of Australians, by what process did the Prime Minister assess the representativeness of the minority views being put to him by his Party along these lines?

Senator BUTTON —Of course the question contains a value judgment that the decision overrides the long term security of Australians. That is the view to which Senator Teague is entitled. It is a view of the ANZUS alliance which was consistently put by Liberal governments over a number of years-that is, if one does anything which is different from the United States, if one advocates any policy which is different from that advocated by the United States, one is in breach, as it were, of the treaty of friendship which this country has with the United States. That attitude to the United States alliance cost 500 Australian lives in Vietnam.

I can remember being in the Senate when honourable senators now sitting on the other side of the chamber were arguing with vehemence when in government that it would do something for the people of Afghanistan if we boycotted the Moscow Olympic Games. Does nobody read the newspapers now? Is nobody on the Opposition side concerned about the people of Afghanistan? What did that action do?

They are the sorts of things in respect of which there is a possibility to exert a slightly different view from that expressed over time by the United States Government. To say in question, as Senator Teague said, that we are overriding the long term security of this country is not a view which this Government does not accept and which Mr Shultz and the President of the United States do not accept.