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Tuesday, 12 November 1974
Page: 2255


Senator WRIEDT (Tasmania) (Minister for Agriculture) - The debate on the report of Estimates Committee B really has centred on an attack on the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee). Senator Greenwood's closing remarks made it quite evident that this attack is being levelled at Senator Willesee simply because he is a possible candidate for the presidency of the General Assembly of the United Nations. Therefore, he must be denigrated in his own Parliament by his own countrymen to lessen in some way his chance of becoming the second Australian President of the United Nations.


Senator McLaren - Sour grapes.


Senator WRIEDT - Yes, sour grapes. It is a great achievement. I am quite sure that Senator Willesee would not be even considered for that role unless he had earned the respect of other delegates to the United Nations and of foreign affairs personnel generally around the world. That alone is sufficient credit to justify the respect that he ought to be shown in this chamber, particularly in his absence. Senator Greenwood made his usual comments about communist associations by this country. I forget the precise words, but this has always been his line in this place. He could never be described as a fascist because he defends South Africa. I would not call him a fascist because he defends South Africa. But he takes exactly the opposite line to the one which he claims to take. Anybody who suggests for a moment support for any regime which Senator Greenwood does not like automatically becomes a communist or is associated with the communists. That is the same twisted mentality that he and a lot of other people show -because a given line is taken with respect to a country, therefore somebody is a communist or a fascist. I disregard that sort of emotional nonsense. If there is one person in this Parliament who I think has shown a sense of balance and proportion in these matters it is none other than Senator Willesee because he has always been balanced and reasonable in his approach to these matters. He is the type of person that we need on the world scene today and he has been promoted into a position of pre-eminence in world affairs. But he has been denigrated by his own parliamentary colleagues in the Australian Parliament for no other reason than sour grapes. It is a disgrace and it is not worth spending any further time on.

Earlier in the debate Senator Carrick made reference to the World Food Conference. Again we see this lamentable attitude of trying to score a political point off the efforts of people who are trying to do something in a difficult situation. I, as the Australian Government representative, am to be criticised in some ways because of the need to make a telephone call to Australia to discuss the matter with the Prime Minister (Mr Whitiam). Is it not natural that any Minister overseas, if he saw fit to contact his own Prime Minister, would be at liberty to do so? Would not Mr Butz, the Secretary of Agriculture who represented the United States, or Dr Kissinger have rung through and spoken to President Ford if he saw the need to do so? Would that be a matter of criticism by Senator Carrick? The whole purpose of the conference was to try to get something started.

I might say that on the first day of the conference it was a disappointment to most delegates that the lead which was expected to be given on the first day was not given. It took the Canadians to do it in the first speech on the second day, and Australia, I think quite rightly, supported the Canadian position. In the atmosphere of a world conference of that nature at which there are hundreds of delegates and hundreds of people making the decisions on the part of the various nations, everyone is looking for a lead. The conference was given it and Canada deserved to be supported. That was the reason why the Australian delegation took the attitude that it did. It was recognised in a publication which was published daily at the conference where in an article headed: 'They've come up trumps', this appeared:

Australia, Canada, Sweden and West Germany, offer food and aid programs. Canada and Australia put their money on the line yesterday during speeches in the Plenary- and made it clear they thought other major grain producing nations should do the same.

That heading and the introduction reflects the feeling of the conference and we would have been remiss as a delegation if we had not been prepared to support the positive stand that was taken by the Canadians.

I do not wish to get involved in the matters raised concerning the Middle East. That is not my responsibility. It is for the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee). But 1 understand that in respect of Estimates Committee B- and this, I thought, was adequately covered by Senator Button and Senator Grimes- there was not present the officer responsible due to the fact that he was overseas. Unfortunately, coincidental with the meeting of the Committee that day there were some rather critical things happening in the General Assembly in New York and there were some urgent matters which required directions to be sent from Canberra to New York. That perhaps caused the lack of immediate information to the Committee. It is also my understanding that the questions which were asked have been answered and I am quite sure that if there is further information needed it will be provided. Even though most of us have some reservations about the continuation of the Estimates Committees, the Government wants to see that if they are to be continued they are continued in their proper role and that they are not abused as they have been, and as we all know they have been. The Government's policy is to provide the maximum information and not to withhold information. I would be very surprised if at any stage it can be demonstrated that any Minister, himself or through his departmental officers, has deliberately withheld information.







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