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Thursday, 26 February 1987
Page: 693

Senator BOLKUS —My question is addressed to the Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce. I ask the Minister whether he has seen an article on the front page of today's Courier-Mail titled `Australia in big trouble, Sir Joh tells Japanese'. Is it a fact that this article reports Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen as having authorised a statement which criticised the Australian Government and economy to be sent to an estimated 100 Japanese Press officers? Does the statement say that Australia has militant trade union leaders and high taxes, that there is little confidence in the Australian dollar and that, further, Australia has not yet begun to have a sustained economic recovery? Does it also state that the visit to Tokyo next week of Sir Joh, `Australian's best known politician', takes on added significance following Sir Joh's recent announcement that he will enter Federal politics and challenge for the position of Prime Minister? Does the Minister agree with Sir Joh's views? I also ask what, in his view, will be the likely effect of this statement on Australia's ability to secure productive investment from Japan?

Senator BUTTON —I have not seen the actual statement which was issued by Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen in Japan. I have seen Press reports of it. This morning I heard a radio program in which the Premier articulated some of the views which he has expressed in the Press statement released in Japan. Incidentally, I also heard Mr Tom McVeigh of the National Party of Australia saying on the same program that he had done a telephone poll of his friends around Australia and that they all wanted Sir Joh to be leader of the National Party and to get rid of the coalition. But that is a different problem and one to which people other than I have to address their minds.

Let me say that Sir Joh, in this statement issued in Japan, behaved scandalously for anybody who purports to be an Australian citizen. The statement was made with one thing in mind-the furtherance of the political career of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen. It was not made with the national interests of this country in mind and it was not made for the point of furthering the economic objectives of this country; it was made for the singularly selfish political interest of the Premier of Queensland. This sort of thing has not happened since last year when a Liberal member of parliament in Western Australia, Mr Ross Lightfoot, tendered similar advice to the United States of America Administration about subsidies for United States wheat farmers which would be terribly damaging to Australian farmers. We have not seen anything like this in Australia since that incident last year. Of course, Mr Ross Lightfoot is not a significant politician in Australia. Sir Joh, in his Press release, has described himself as `Australia's best known politician'. To be Australia's best known politician is not necessarily a commendation. To be Australia's best statesman might be a commendation but Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen nowhere aspires, one would hope, to be Australia's best statesman. He may be the best politician, but that is a totally different thing.

This Government, I believe with bipartisan support from the Liberal Party, has placed a great deal of importance on investment in Australia from Japan and Europe. That is necessary in the process of restructuring Australian industries and it is very important to this country. When we had an investment mission from Japan last month and in the investment mission to Japan in November last year we emphasised a number of things which were changes in direction in Australian policy and improvement in a wide range of industry performances in Australia. We emphasised the industrial strength of this country and we emphasised political stability as being important in Australia in the context of international recognition of desirable improvements in the Australian economy.

The remarks made by Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen suggest to foreign governments an extraordinary degree of political instability, which we might be used to in Australia in the light of his recent utterances but which the Japanese and others are not used to. I identify Senator Boswell as one of the lieutenants of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen in this place. He is somebody that the Liberal Party has to take notice of. He constitutes the new think tank in this Parliament for the Liberal Party as well as for the National Party. I say to Senator Boswell that two months ago Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen was in Turkey trying to sell an Australian power station and Queensland coal to the Turkish Government. What was he saying in Turkey two months ago? He said that we would guarantee security of supply, we would guarantee delivery, that it would be the best power station that the Turks could ever imagine and that the performance of Australian industry in building this power station would be remarkable. Those are the sorts of things he was saying in Turkey in January. Yet now, in pursuit of his own political position and in his desire to make an international stunt as distinct from an Australian stunt, he is saying exactly the opposite. I find it extraordinary that anybody who calls himself an Australian could say things like this. He has undermined the efforts of numerous governments in this country to enhance the international reputation of Australia; again, I say, in pursuit of a singular political ambition.

I wonder whether he will tell people in Japan about his record as a manager of the Queensland economy. I wonder whether he will tell them that last week he was criticised by a business community committee in Queensland and by the Lord Mayor of Brisbane, Sallyanne Atkinson, for strangling private enterprise in Queensland with red tape. That is what they said last week about him. I wonder whether he will tell them that Queensland has the highest job vacancy rate in Australia; the second lowest growth rate; the greatest fall in the number of residential buildings commenced; the highest fall in the number of motor vehicles registered; and a falling household income per capita.

Senator Chaney —I am going to ask you to table that paper.

Senator BUTTON —Senator Chaney wants me to table this paper because the contents of this paper will be very important to Senator Chaney as Sir Joh sets about wrecking the coalition and supplanting John Howard and Ian Sinclair-in one case the Mickey Mouse leader of the Liberal Party and in the other case the old bag of the National Party--

Senator Chaney —I raise a point of order. I ask that those two references to Mr Howard and Mr Sinclair be withdrawn.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Button, under standing order 418 I ask you to withdraw those two references.

Senator BUTTON —I certainly withdraw them, Mr President. If I might come back to the central point-I do not want to cause undue anxiety on the Opposition benches about their new-found political partner-it is an extraordinary performance for a man who aspires to enter national politics in this country to denigrate this country publicly in Japan, a denigration which will go around the world as a contribution of, as he describes himself, `Australia's best known politician'.

Senator Lewis —Is your Minister under attack? Is that your problem? Is that why you are going for 10 minutes?

Senator BUTTON —Senator Lewis wants to ask some parochial question about housing interest rates which I concede is very important. The honourable senator's interjection just makes the point that it is not important compared with the major economic issues facing this country, which relate to the exchange rate and the trade balance. They will be with any government here for a long time. They are things that governments have to deal with as the prime issues facing this country. The point I want to make in conclusion is that this country is well served by steady governments following steady directions.

Senator Walters —Downhill all the way.

Senator BUTTON —There is Senator Walters, the noisy one. There is not one serious economic commentator in Australia who does not say that the road ahead is very difficult for any government, but the right directions are being followed in terms of these issues. Those directions should not be sabotaged by this performer from the northern State.