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Tuesday, 19 March 1985
Page: 381

Senator HAMER —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Defence. Does the Minister share the concern of the Indonesian Foreign Minister, Dr Mochtar, who said on Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio last week that what happened during the Australian Foreign Minister's swing through Indo-China was 'very unfortunate because it does impair Mr Hayden's credibility'? Does the Minister agree that this criticism from a senior Minister of the largest country in the region about Mr Hayden's handling of such sensitive matters will further damage our standing with the members of the Association of South East Asian Nations?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I do not accept the conclusions Senator Hamer drew from the statements made last week by Mr Mochtar. I am not at all sure that, on further thinking about it, Mr Mochtar would wish to repeat that assertion. In subsequent communications he has made it perfectly clear to Australian Government representatives that he accepts as extremely useful guidelines for the further discussion of the resolution of the Kampuchean problem the clarifications obtained by Mr Hayden. Furthermore, despite all the suggestions that were made in a number of places about the inappropriateness of Mr Hayden visiting Vietnam at a time when its troops were apparently engaged in across-the-border attacks in Thailand, Mr Mochtar himself has in the last three days paid just such a visit and at the same time, with Vietnamese troops still engaged in doing whatever it was they were doing a few days earlier, has not found it possible to come out with the same sort of condemnation of that incursion as Mr Hayden very properly and very honestly made when the true facts of the matter became known to him.

So far as Australia's relations with ASEAN at large are concerned, it has to be understood that the language employed by the Indonesian Foreign Minister was comparatively mild by comparison with a great deal of that which has been employed in issues of a bilateral and multilateral kind by Indonesian ministerial representatives over the years. That is a further matter to be taken into account in judging the weight and adverse effect of that exchange. So far as the other ASEAN partners are concerned, the issues are quite unequivocal. This morning's Melbourne Age reported an absolutely unequivocal statement by Mr Dhanabalan, the Singapore Foreign Minister, indicating that the reaction in Australia to the events of the previous week struck him as nothing short of hysterical. He was, of course, referring to the unbelievable performance we witnessed from Mr Peacock and Opposition spokesmen in this respect. He made perfectly clear his view that a political stick was being used to beat Mr Hayden, which he thought quite inappropriate in all the circumstances.

So far as the Thais are concerned, who are allegedly those most upset by the kind of initiatives in which Mr Hayden engaged-

Senator Walters —What about China and Singapore?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I have already said something about Singapore. The honourable senator may have been confused by the gentleman's Indian name, but he is the Singapore Foreign Minister. The Thais have described the clarification of the Vietnamese position obtained by Mr Hayden as helpful in their further moves to try to untangle, along with everyone else, the Cambodian situation. Moreover, I was advised a few minutes ago by Mr Hayden that just a few days ago the Thai Ambassador to Australia contacted Mr Hayden to express his concern at the extraordinary and, in his view, quite unjustified media and Opposition reaction to the events of previous days. He indicated his willingness to go on the 60 Minutes program a couple of days ago with Mr Hayden-if Mr Hayden had wanted him to-to express his support.

The Malaysians actually asked for the information about the clarification of the Vietnamese position that Mr Hayden was seeking. They have expressed gratitude for the clarifications that have been obtained and there has been no question of any criticism from them. The Philippines has been totally preoccupied with domestic circumstances and does not appear to have expressed any interest whatsoever in the alleged crisis into which Australia's ASEAN relations have been thrown by the events of last week.

I simply make the point that an enormous amount of what occurred last week has been the subject of quite grotesque misrepresentation and overreaction, not least, of course, the foundation on which so much comment was made-the suggestion that Mr Hayden had accepted, at its face value and without any demur or questioning, the propositions put to him about the Vietnamese and about there being no incursions. If honourable senators look at the precise record of exactly what Mr Hayden said to the journalists accompanying him, they will see that he was making it perfectly clear that he was simply retailing what he had been told and qualifying that by saying that, in the event that there did prove to be something in the nature of an incursion, he would be quick to condemn that. That is something which he retailed to Mr Thach and about which he advised the journalists in question.

Of course, when it did become clear, as a result of subsequent intelligence assessments and the information provided to Mr Hayden by the Thais, that there had, in fact, been such an incursion, he, as always, was true to his word and made that condemnation. The whole thing has been a totally fabricated and overplayed misrepresentation of what at every stage was a totally honest and professionally conducted initiative.

Senator Chaney —I ask the Minister to table the paper from which he has quoted.

The PRESIDENT —The Minister is tabling a paper.