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Thursday, 30 June 1994
Page: 2450

Senator McGAURAN —I direct my question to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. I refer the minister to the Prime Minister's speech in Jakarta last night where he described Indonesia as a country of great tolerance and called for a better appreciation of the quality of tolerance in Indonesia. In the light of the Prime Minister's claim, can the minister explain how the continuing suppression of free speech, free press and the continuing military occupation of East Timor amount to an expression of national tolerance? Or does he believe that the Prime Minister stretched the reasonable person's understanding of tolerance?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The context in which the Prime Minister made that remark ought to be understood. After having referred to Australia as being appropriately better known in Indonesia as a sophisticated, technologically advanced society with a diverse, open and tolerant people, and referring in that context to misunderstandings about the `White Australia' policy, he went on to say:

I want Indonesia to be known by Australians for what it is, in all its cultural richness and ethnic diversity, with all its challenges, its achievements and its aspirations. This is a country of great tolerance itself with its vast ethnic and cultural diversity.

That is the particular context, of course, in which the Prime Minister was speaking, as indeed the press reports made clear this morning. Indonesia has been a country of remarkable achievement when it has come to bringing unity out of the ethnic, geographical and cultural diversity that so manifestly exists in that country. That is an achievement to be proud of and it is one that is appropriately acknowledged.

  The Prime Minister's visit was an enormously successful one in terms of the objectives we set ourselves, with the trade and investment forum being at the centrepiece of it and some very substantial discussions taking place with President Suharto on matters relating to APEC and the overall regional and bilateral relationship. Within the context of that visit and against the background of those achievements, the Prime Minister did make it very clear what Australia's view was on the particular matter Senator McGauran is referring to.

  The problem that presently exists with the media in Indonesia was a concern that was expressed at the initiation of the Australian Prime Minister and was the subject of a discussion between the two leaders. In that context, Australia's view about the virtues of openness and free expression was made abundantly clear, and the virtues, moreover, of that being tolerated, to use the word in issue, rather than repressed. That point has been conveyed equally clearly by me publicly, just as I and other government ministers, including the Prime Minister, as occasion has demanded, have conveyed equally clearly our concerns about other matters that from time to time have arisen that do give rise to legitimate concern by reference to universal human rights principles and matters of that kind.

  The basic point is that it needs to be appreciated that Indonesia has been an outstandingly successful country in the way in which it has created unity out of diversity, and welded together into a single very major contributing nation in the region and in the modern world. That is something that we appreciate and acknowledge, and the Prime Minister was entirely right to do so.

Senator Gareth Evans —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.