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Thursday, 5 May 1994
Page: 382

Senator SANDY MACDONALD (6.52 p.m.) —Fifty thousand Australian soldiers went to Vietnam, and that episode in Australian history is deeply etched in our psyche. It means a lot to many Australians, whether they agree with our participation or not. Although I acknowledge Senator Loosley's contribution and the genuineness of his desire to have a strong relationship with Vietnam, I think it is a little unfair and improper for him to impute to all of us in opposition the view that the behaviour of the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) in Vietnam was appropriate.

  Mr Keating sailed into Vietnam, the first Australian Prime Minister to do so, and offered no more than one paragraph—one paragraph!—from a speech he gave at Hellfire Pass in Thailand. What can the ghosts of the Australian heroes who died in Hellfire Pass feel about who represents Australia today? Surely the Prime Minister is not so naive as to think that this would suffice. It took him five days of hounding by his spin doctors to realise that he would have to change his tune.

  This recognition came only after his advisers told him that the polls back home had suggested that he was right out of line. Australians who went to Vietnam made the ultimate sacrifice; they defended their country with honour and integrity. Theirs was not to reason why, as is often the case—in fact, always the case with soldiers serving their country overseas. Some 500 young Australians died, and many more were wounded. The families of those dead and injured Australians still feel the pain of Vietnam. It was a painful experience for each and everyone of them, and it is painful for all of us in Australia.

  The Prime Minister had the gall to infer that they were second-rate diggers. He made the mistake of judging those veterans in the light of political history. He is a very divisive and hurtful person, and likes to twist history to his own liking and his own ends. Whether the Prime Minister agrees with the decision to send Australian troops to Vietnam is irrelevant. It is a bit like his being elected to Prime Minister. Not everyone agreed with that decision. But, as an Australian, I would like to think that my Prime Minister would know how to behave in that high office.

  Every time the Prime Minister goes overseas he seems to take a Rambo-type pill which will ensure that he puts his foot in his mouth at the expense of Australia's image. I get no pleasure out of our Prime Minister being known as the Lizard of Oz when he goes to England to tell the Queen where to get off—a major slip. He says it is his Catholicism that makes him a republican. That is so offensive to many Catholics who have the correct fondness for our constitutional arrangements and the institutions we have inherited from England.

  Next, under the guidance of his right-hand man and Ambassador to Washington, Don Russell, he made two startling outbursts at the recent APEC conference. His first gratuitously offended our neighbour and Asian friend Malaysia. He called Dr Mahathir recalcitrant.

Senator Burns —Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I ask that you call the speaker to order and ask him to be relevant.

  The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Teague)—There is no point of order. There have been a number of matters raised during this debate and I ask Senator Sandy Macdonald to address the motion that is before us and to continue with his speech.

Senator SANDY MACDONALD —That outburst in Seattle caused great harm to Australian export and business relations with Malaysia. Our Prime Minister has the ability to be rude for no reason, and time after time the language that he gets away with here offends our friends overseas. Also in Seattle he made his famous comment about the sort of commitment he had made with Conrad Black. I guess that is a debate for another occasion.

  On a previous occasion—in fact, his first overseas trip as Prime Minister—he visited Indonesia and attacked our flag. It was an unbelievable action by a head of state. Our Asian friends, and that means all Asians, cannot understand anyone who could have so little respect for their national flag that they could go to another country and say that it was not relevant. Our Asian neighbours in private shake their heads in disbelief.

  The point is that we have a Prime Minister who is un-Australian, embarrassed to be an Australian and, as former Prime Minister Hawke said quite tellingly in the Labor in power series, does not even like Australia. We have a Prime Minister who is ashamed of being an Australian. If he does not like Australia, he can leave. If he does not like the flag, he can leave. I make a prediction that when he loses the next election, just wait and see; he will leave.