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Monday, 4 May 1987
Page: 2216


Senator BOLKUS —I ask the Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs: Is it a fact that the French military use Darwin as a transit stop en route to New Caledonia? If so, is not this transit facility an important support mechanism for France's actions in that country? In view of France's blatant disregard for international resolutions on self-determination for New Caledonia, will the Australian Government withdraw this transit facility?


Senator GARETH EVANS —Non-scheduled flights by French aircraft do occasionally use Darwin as a transit stop for refuelling en route to New Caledonia. There have been three such stopovers this year, each of one hour's duration, by UTA and Air France aircraft under charter to the French Government. Clearance has been sought for one more. There were three such flights in 1986. The purpose of the flights has been to transport military personnel on rotational deployments. The Government would not consider the stopovers in Darwin as an important support mechanism for France's activities in New Caledonia. France does have alternative routes available to it and I understand that the majority of troop rotations have taken place without stopovers in Australia. We have, of course, frequently expressed our concern at French policy toward New Caledonia. It is a matter of regret that the French Government has not taken into account these concerns and those of other regional countries. Despite these and other differences Australia does, however, have a very substantial and broadly based relationship with France. The Government wishes to maintain it as it is appropriate to two friendly countries. The infrequent proposals for refuelling French aircraft carrying military personnel in transit to New Caledonia will be examined on a case by case basis. However, I can assure Senator Bolkus that the implications of any transit proposals for the internal situation in New Caledonia will be an important factor in decisions which are taken on them.