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Thursday, 9 June 1994
Page: 1633


Senator TAMBLING (3.47 p.m.) —The government response to a previous report on this matter relating to Australia's relations with Indonesia is an issue that does demand the time of the Senate. The government response to the report Australia's relations with Indonesia is hardly a blueprint for the future of Australian-Indonesian relationships. It is uninspiring. It is a lacklustre response to a grab bag of issues ranging from illegal fishermen to human rights, development assistance, nuclear energy and East Timor.

  Specifically, this response document ignores the commercial potential of Indonesia—a developing and technologically starved neighbour with over 180 million people. It also fails to acknowledge the leading role of the Northern Territory and other states in forging closer government and business links with Indonesia. Those links have been developing profoundly in the last few years and at a compounding rate of involvement and development.

  Certainly, as the shadow minister for northern development, I am disappointed to note the federal government's disregard for northern Australia in this response document. The original report which was tabled in November 1993 was the culmination of the work of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade over a considerable period of time. It was a very comprehensive report—over 300 pages. It went into a lot of detail, it addressed a lot of issues and certainly demanded more than the scant comments that have now been made in this 26-page government response, which just seems, as I said, to pick up a grab bag of issues and does not really come to grips with the issue. I think it is very insulting to the relationship, to the many people of goodwill both in Indonesia and in Australia who have been working hard in this particular area.   Little or no mention is made of the north's strategic location in the bilateral relationship, nor of the potential to develop industry or create employment. What about the recent activities of the Department of Defence? They are not covered in this area. I would have thought that Senator Ray's department would have had much greater input.

  What about the activities of Austrade, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, AIDAB, Customs, and AQIS on all of these issues? What about the initiative of the federal Labor government in establishing the Darwin committee, headed by Neville Wran and comprising a number of eminent Australians, to look at the future of our Asian relationships? There is no indication from this response that the Wran committee even exists, let alone that it is doing a comprehensive amount of work. I have had discussions with the Wran committee and I know well the very great work it is doing and the number of commissions it has given to consultants.

  However, judging from this 26-page document, northern Australia is merely a good place to hold a conference—so much for the rhetoric of this federal Labor government. It would do well to follow the lead of the Northern Territory government in its dealings with Indonesia, where it has forged a very successful relationship, underscored by a special memorandum of understanding.

  It is also important to note that the Northern Territory government is the first government in Australia to create a specific ministry of Asian relations. My party political colleague Shane Stone has been striking out and creating new foreign affairs relationships between the Northern Territory, Indonesia and other Asian countries. In this response there is no acknowledgment whatsoever by the Labor government to a very—


Senator Kemp —Mean-minded.


Senator TAMBLING —It is, as Senator Kemp says, a very mean-minded response. It should be acknowledging the work that not only the Northern Territory but also Western Australia and Queensland have been doing. I had hoped that more of the work done by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade would have been reflected in this particular report.

  I am surprised this afternoon that, on an agenda completely different from my own, neither Senator Chamarette nor Senator Margetts is here to comment on the government's response to the issues of power and power generation and the very necessary debate on nuclear issues and the involvement of Indonesia in developing its own energy resources. The response to these issues on pages 22 and 23 of the report is only about two paragraphs long—about 20 words longer than the committee's recommendation regarding nuclear accidents in the region. It is important that we have dialogue with our nearest neighbour on such an important issue.

  It is not surprising from a Labor government, but there is no mention in this report of the potential to sell uranium to Indonesia. We have the resources in the Northern Territory and, providing we had the appropriate safeguards, guidelines, constraints and negotiated areas, that is something I would like to see go ahead. Instead, we just have some very pious words about the matter.

  It is to the credit of the Northern Territory government that it has now earned very considerable respect in Indonesia and in that region generally. The Northern Territory government has initiated a number of trade fairs, important trade missions and dialogues with specific areas and regions within Indonesia. There is no acknowledgment in this response of that sort of activity being undertaken by the Northern Territory government, the Western Australian government and the Queensland government. There are a few nice adjectives and a few crowing words about future dialogue, a couple of conferences and visits by ministers proposed over the next few months of the winter recess but the government is not building on work that has already been put in place.

  I find this response to be a very inadequate and very poor document. The federal government has a long way to go in its bilateral relationship with Indonesia, especially when compared with the likes of the Northern Territory.

  Debate (on motion by Senator O'Chee) adjourned.