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Wednesday, 16 March 1977
Page: 283

Mr Antony Whitlam (GRAYNDLER, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I am delighted to join in this debate on the Government's foreign policy. I belong to a generation of Australians who had the opportunity to travel abroad when they were young. I first went overseas when the presentation of an Australian passport in any foreign country put you in the category of people in other conservative countries. You were immediately put in the category of the persons from that part of the map which used to be coloured pink or red and which was primarily populated by persons of the European race. In other words, they were the white conservative selfish nations of the world. In this debate I have the opportunity to join in while all that has been changed. It was changed dramatically of course by the directions irreversibly set under a Labor government for 3 years. I do not want to give a kiss of death to the present Foreign Minister (Mr Peacock) but I think it fair to say that he has not wanted to set that trend back, and he has not done so. The trend was set irreversibly. Australia cannot go back to joining that backwater of nations to which it used to be consigned. One used to feel, I regret, a sense of shame at being an Australian in enlightened company overseas. That is no longer the case and I suspect will no longer be the case.

No matter what proposition the Foreign Minister has to defend in this House I am sure that in his face to face negotiations with the governments of other countries he strikes a relatively balanced note. The main problem that confronts Australia in its conduct of foreign relations at this time is the tendency and willingness of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to see every issue in black and white terms, in terms of good and bad, in terms of a gross oversimplification which should have disappeared in the last half decade from the conduct of foreign relations and from sophisticated commentary about them.

Honourable members who have preceded me in this debate have spoken at some length about the new directions of foreign policy being signalled by the new President of the United States, and clearly for us here in Australia that will be terribly important. We are a great ally of the United States and I hope we will always remain so. Any informed liberal developments in the policy of that country should be welcomed by all persons in this country. I believe that during the past couple of weeks the popular Press has oversimplified the direction of that policy. Popular news magazines display the headline 'Carter: The New Morality'. That is a tremendous oversimplification.

American foreign policy has always been informed by a tremendous morality, for good or ill- I believe during the early part of the 1950s for ill- but at least the difference between the morality that the Americans espoused and that pursued by conservatives in what used to be the British Empire was based upon a principle albeit somewhat perverse. The Americans have pursued consistently since the Second World War the view that they will assist those nations which most deserve it. All that has changed is the subjective American assessment of the countries which deserve it. The Americans have come to look at those countries which observe most rigorously or at least most decently human rights. They have moved away simply from their view that the countries most deserving of support were those which had the most virulently anticommunist governments.

That kind of tendency clearly is one which we in the Labor Party will support. It was one argued by social democrats throughout the 1950s and the 1960s. It was one that saw a brief resurgence during the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations. It was a policy that went sour in South East Asia, one of the pans of the world closest to Australia, not least because of the silence and the acquiescence of the then Australian Government in the disgraceful and shortsighted policies pursued by the American Government. There is now a new American Government and those members of it, such as the new Secretary of State, who had any pan to play in those early policies of the 1960s have recanted completely. I believe it would be a very good thing for this nation if those in this country who now have control of the destiny of our foreign policy were prepared to make exactly the same kind of clean breast of their own pasts and were prepared to admit that they were wrong, that the policies that sent Australians to die in South East Asia in that war in Vietnam and the policies that encouraged American intervention in Cambodia to overthrow the Sihanouk regime were wrong.

That kind of clean breast will go a good deal of the way to giving the Australian Government the kind of credibility that all of us in Australia, Government and Opposition, Tory and Labor, would wish for our image in Asia. If the Americans, who, in terms of men and material committed to that war, made a much greater effort than Australia, are prepared to do so, why cannot Australia take the initiative here, particularly in seeking to reconcile the United States with the now united new state of Vietnam? I believe that would be a significant contribution on the part of this Government to world peace.

The popular Press seeks to over-simplify. I mentioned earlier that it talks about the Carter Administration in the United States being the first to discover morality. In fact, it is only a different perception of morality, a different perception of the states deserving of the support of the United States Government and hopefully, its allies around the world. The over-simplification leads, of course, to the view that someone like Secretary of State Kissinger was only interested in realpolitik. The practice of foreign relations in the world, whether by great powers like the United States or by middle powers like Australia, is a mixture of the two and it always will be so. What Australia must remember is that as a middle power we can never pretend that the clout we will have in terms of realpolitik can be as great as our moral influence. So long as we remain committed to the mainstream of western democratic ideals we can never underestimate our power to have influence and effect in that alliance.

The Foreign Minister touched on many parts of the world and many aspects of the development of foreign policy. The aspect which interested me as much as any was the attitude of this Government towards trade with less developed countries. I can say to the House that as one of the younger men in this Parliament, one of the things that concerns a great many of my friends of my own age when I talk to them about large issues is that they say 'Look, what happens in Australia does not matter. It is only a matter of degree in this country. What matters is what happens outside. There the questions are so much larger. There the differences in standards of living are so much greater.' I believe that to an extent they are right but to an extent, of course, it is a copping out of making assessments and judgments in our own society in Australia. I believe that we ought to make some sacrifices in this country. We ought to have regard for the fact that we are, in spite of our present economic difficulties which we experience with the rest of the industrialised western world, a peculiarly fortunate society existing as we do as a piece of western European civilisation on the fringe of Asia.

The decisions that we need to make if we are to make any contribution towards the lifting of living standards in the less developed countries will be hard decisions for us and for our constituents to bear. They will not be easy. I am not talking simply about textile industries in South Korea and Hong Kong or about electronics industries in Singapore, Thailand or Hong Kong. I am talking about the prospects of developing labour intensive industries which can improve the conditions of people's lives in the big countries to our near north, in Indonesia, Malaysia and, most importantly if we are to have peace in this part of the world, in Indo-China including Vietnam. Hopefully, one day this will include an again civilised Cambodia and Laos. It is here, after the thousands of words that he spoke yesterday, that the Foreign Minister skates over the hard decisions. This Fraser Liberal Government often says that there are no easy options and it uses that as a code to cut back on public expenditure and on the development of community services in Australia.

The Australian people may forgive the Government for that for one, two or three years. Who knows? But out neighbours in Asia will not forgive us if we engage in empty rhetoric about giving better trading terms to Asian nations at the same time as we are setting up needless and selfish barriers against those countries. That kind of policy and that kind of government decision making is being perceived very clearly now in Asian capitals. It is being perceived in China which has a system that we do not share and which, while we understand the historical origins, we clearly do not aspire to emulate. It is being perceived in other Asian nations which have such different social systems although some, at least, share perhaps the trappings of our western parliamentary system or the newspaper systems and media treatment that we have. I say to all honourable members that we leave this debate tonight and return to an empty debate such as the Address-in-Reply debate and talk about things that narrowly concern us in this country and ignore the perception of this Government's decision in Asian capitals at our peril. It will be to the disadvantage not only of Australians now but also of those who are to follow.

I started my speech by saying that there are certain elements of Australian policy which were irreversibly set during the 3 years of the Labor Government. I believe the most important of them, however tentatively taken, was that in relation to our trade relations and the development of the economies of our near neighbours. That remains the area in which we can have the greatest influence. I urge the Government to think again more seriously about this matter.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Giles -Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

Question resolved in the affirmative.

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