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Tuesday, 21 June 1994
Page: 1780

Senator TROETH —My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. Has the minister noted the comments of his ministerial colleague Gary Johns that for too long the Labor government has been responding to the demands of minority groups, which he defined to include `women, migrants, blacks and homosexuals', rather than the real and genuine needs of mainstream Australia? Was Mr Johns outlining a new government strategy to refashion itself so as to crudely attempt to appeal to those many Australians who have been ignored by the policies of this government?

Senator GARETH EVANS —My understanding is that Mr Johns has been rather misunderstood on the point he was making. As I am advised, he was emphasising the virtues of tolerance in Australian society and recognising the need for people to live together. In a subsequent communication to the centenary advisory committee, he said:

I was alluding to a quote from Donald Horne's How to be Australia paper which said "We should show the world how to be a nation without being nationalistic—

Senator Alston —Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order. The minister is not being asked how Mr Johns attempted to extricate himself by rewriting political history. He is being asked whether or not Mr Johns used those words and whether they represent the government's official position. Senator Bolkus disagrees with Mr Johns; does the minister disagree with him?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! There is no point of order. I am sure Senator Evans is answering the question.

Senator GARETH EVANS —It is not always entirely reasonable to rely on what people say. It is what they mean to say that matters. Mr Johns meant to say:

We should show the world how to be a nation without being nationalistic and how to be tolerant without falling apart.

Mr Johns, like the rest of us, is against things falling apart. That is a very sensible observation to make about the social fabric of this country.

Honourable senators interjecting—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! I do not know whether Senator Troeth can hear the answer but I cannot.

Senator GARETH EVANS —In making a substantial contribution to informed and sensible national debate on this matter, what Mr Johns meant to say was perfectly reasonable and perfectly sensible. I do not think he or the government needs to make any apology for it.

Senator TROETH —Mr Deputy President, I ask a supplementary question. Does this mean that we now need to `tolerate' women in Australia? Also, why has the Prime Minister not reprimanded Mr Johns for providing such a damning report card on the Labor government's 10 years in office?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The only point that needs to be made in addition to what I said before is that Mr Downer made himself conspicuous by responding not to what Mr Johns meant to say but to what Mr Johns was construed as saying about these divisive tendencies. He did not cover himself with any glory at all in this respect, nor has he on any of the other half dozen issues on which he has flipped and flopped in a half-baked populist way since he was elected to the leadership. I have nothing more to say on that subject.