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Wednesday, 6 May 1987
Page: 2391

Senator BROWNHILL —I draw the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Trade to the Government's announcement that a second trade delegation is to visit the United States of America and Canada very shortly. Given that the Opposition has for months repeatedly made calls for such a delegation, only to have this idea scorned and rejected by the Government, can the Minister explain his Government's apparent change of heart? Secondly, as the Minister for Trade, Mr Dawkins, has in the past doubted the effectiveness of such missions, is the appointment of a relatively unknown back bench member of parliament, the honourable member for McMillan from Victoria, to lead the delegation a reflection of how essential Mr Dawkins thinks the mission is? If in fact the Government regards our trade position to be in serious jeopardy, and if the trade delegation is regarded as a potentially effective tool to plead for better trading relations between the United States and Australia, can the Minister explain why, in the event of Mr Dawkins being unable to lead the delegation, a senior member of Cabinet, or at least another Minister, is not doing so?

b Senator BUTTON-First of all, I must say that I share Mr Dawkins's general view about this matter. Ever since the European Economic Community was formed we have had a history of ministerial delegations to Europe battering on doors about the common agricultural policy. I do not think the achievements can be regarded as startlingly good. If more ministerial energy had been devoted to other activities rather than beating on those very solid doors, we might have been more successful in the past.

In answer to the more specific elements of the question, the Government has decided to send a parliamentary delegation to the United States simply because we believe that it is worth while to take every avenue of influencing United States Government policy on this matter, including influencing members of Congress, about the whole issue of agricultural protection and some specific matters within that generic description. It is planned that the delegation will be in Washington on 20 and 21 May and will then travel to Ottawa to meet Mr Dawkins at the opening of the meeting of the Cairns group of fair trading nations which will--

Senator Crichton-Browne —That is a unique way to see Ministers from the Australian Government, isn't it?

Senator BUTTON —I think it is an excellent way to see Ministers. If the honourable senator would go to Ottawa we would waste a lot less time in the Senate. The meeting of nations to take place in Ottawa results from an Australian Government initiative initially with countries which are commodity suppliers. It has been taken up by those other countries and warmly supported. It is a matter of great significance in terms of the forthcoming General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade rounds.

Senator Sheil —But why are you sending a baby to buy the beer?

Senator BUTTON —If the honourable senator is describing Mr Dawkins as a baby, I think he should try mixing it with him some time.

Senator Brownhill —He can't be in the main delegation.

Senator BUTTON —Mr President, I do not object to interjections at all, but if they are pointless and reveal that the interjectors have not even listened to the parts of the answer I have already given--

Senator Crichton-Browne —Don't criticise them; they give you time to think.

Senator BUTTON —They do give one time to think. They can be very useful.

Senator Crichton-Browne —It is useful for you, but boring for us.

Senator BUTTON —I am sure that Senator Brownhill is interested in the answer if Senator Crichton-Browne is not.

Senator Brownhill —I will be very interested when you tell me why the junior is going.

Senator BUTTON —We could send a Government junior as Senator Brownhill likes to call him. We could send Mr Ralph Hunt or Mr Ian Sinclair, but I think that they are a little tied up at the moment with one thing and another. The question asked: When will the delegation be going? I have told the Senate that. I have said that the delegation will then go to the Cairns fair trading nations group for a meeting in Ottawa. The Washington part of the activities will be led by the honourable member for McMillan, Mr Barry Cunningham. In spite of the best efforts and the pretensions which this country has about its politicians, I am not sure whether the delegation requires greater status than that in view of the likely time it will be accorded by members of Congress. As I said, it is one avenue of approaching the whole question. This Government has already made extensive representations through the Minister for Primary Industry, the Minister for Trade and the Prime Minister, to members of both Congress and the Administration on this matter.

Senator Crichton-Browne —The results have been devastating, haven't they?

Senator BUTTON —The all-party delegation is seen merely as a useful complementary device to what has already been done by the Government. Senator Crichton-Browne says: `It has been a lot of use, hasn't it?' I remind the honourable senator of some of the problems which the United States Congress has and which principally--

Senator Crichton-Browne —I am more interested in the problems you have.

Senator BUTTON —Watching the problems we have is probably a diversion for the honourable senator from watching his own. The problems which the United States Congress has with its own farm community are so enormous that the extent to which a visit of Australian parliamentarians can be accorded a great deal of time by congressional members is doubtful.

Senator Boswell —You are condemning them before they leave.

Senator BUTTON —No, I am not condemning them before they leave. I just want to put it into perspective. I think it ought to be put into perspective because the ad hoc, knee-jerk response of previous governments in this country was not to send a gunboat but to send a parliamentary delegation to fix problems. I am not sure that it is a course that has been littered with great success.

Senator BROWNHILL —I ask a supplementary question, Mr President. Does this mean that the leader of the previous delegation failed in his trip?

Senator BUTTON —I suppose it does; but if the honourable senator had an understanding of the problem, he would realise that that sort of failure is not of monumental significance.