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Thursday, 5 December 2002
Page: 7301

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (4:18 PM) —The Democrats support this urgency motion. We support the need for the Prime Minister to act to reverse the damage that he has caused. The Prime Minister has caused more damage to the image of Australia in our region than anyone since Pauline Hanson. He is damaging the security of Australian citizens and he is damaging multiculturalism. His refusal to acknowledge that damage and take this issue seriously is equally disgraceful. This issue has been raised during the week—by the Democrats in question time on Monday, by the Greens in question time on Wednesday, and by the Labor Party in question time today. Each time, the response has been not only to ignore the damage that has obviously been done but to treat the issue with complete flippancy and without any seriousness. We even had a government minister, Senator Abetz, calling the Prime Minister of Malaysia, `Prime Minister Muppeteer'. It is really helpful for building strong relations with Malaysia when government ministers use such language in the Senate and have it recorded in the Hansard! The Democrats believe it is very destructive that the government appears to have abandoned the previous tripartisan policy of positive engagement with South-East Asia and the Pacific. A recent publication of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Beyond Bali—a very worthwhile document which I would encourage all people to read—said:

Our ability to respond effectively to the new challenge of terrorism will depend on our ability to work with governments in the region.

Senator Ferguson —Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. It goes to the comment made by Senator Bartlett who obviously was not in the chamber this morning. The reference he made to the Malaysian Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir, in fact proved to be false. It was a misrecording by Hansard that has been admitted. So I think it is wrong for Senator Bartlett to perpetuate something that has already been corrected in the Senate, although Senator Bartlett might not have heard that correction.

Senator Brown —We have not heard that that correction has been made yet. There is some dispute about that, so the matter has not been resolved.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Sandy Macdonald)—Senator Abetz has withdrawn his comments and sought to correct the record.

Senator BARTLETT —I am not surprised that an attempt to alter the Hansard has been made, but I do have ears of my own, which were working at the time that I was asking that question. It was in response to a question that I was asking.

Senator Ferris —Why don't you withdraw it, Andrew?

Senator BARTLETT —I am not the one withdrawing it. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute's document stated:

Our ability to respond effectively to the new challenge of terrorism will depend on our ability to work with governments in the region.

I note the recent comments by the Director of the Australian Defence Studies Centre, Anthony Bergin, and the associate professor of politics at the Australian Defence Force Academy, Hugh Smith:

... talking about pre-emption gives the appearance of aggressiveness and a willingness to push the boundaries of international law to suit Australia's interests ... This is counter-productive in terms of securing political support from our neighbours in the war on terrorism. ... The most effective means of dealing with terrorism ... remains prevention through cooperation between governments.

The Australian Defence Association has questioned the practicalities of Prime Minister Howard's first-strike policy, and that is the message that the Democrats would like to get out. Even the editorial of the Australian, not exactly the newsletter of the peace movement, has said that the Prime Minister should not have made those comments.

Just look at the Philippines, a nation that has worked closely with the US to address terrorism, including joint training exercises and counter-terrorism manoeuvres in the country. A note reports that the Philippines' response to Mr Howard's comments was to announce that it would rethink the bilateral counter-terrorism pact it was negotiating with Australia. How can one say that the Prime Minister's comments were not damaging when that has been the response of a key government in our region? We acknowledge that Minister Downer called an emergency meeting to try to defuse the situation, and the Democrats hope that that has had some success. But the fact remains that the Prime Minister needs to act. He is the one who has made the comments, and he is the one, along with all his ministers, who has refused to acknowledge the enormous damage that those comments have done to our region. As I said at the start, it was widely acknowledged that comments by Pauline Hanson, an independent MP, were damaging; Mr Howard's comments are equally damaging and should be addressed. (Time expired)