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Australia's foreign policy - confused priorities and missed opportunities

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Speech by the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Robert Hill, to the National Press Club/Australian Institute of International Affairs, Canberra, 12 July 1989.

I have been an enthusiastic supporter of AIIA for many years. The Institute is one of those relatively rare bodies in this country interested in encouraging and raising the level of debate in matters concerning international relations.

I have participated in your national conferences once addressing the role of the Parliament in foreign policy formulation and on another occasion on the subject of issues relating to Australia's trade policies. I participated in a conference on South Pacific

security issues which you jointly sponsored with The Pacific Forum of Hawaii and another conference you held in Sydney (at Admiralty House) on the four Chinas (PRC, Taiwan, Hong Kong and


Most recently you invited me to join in the Bicentennial Colloquium in Tokyo last year on Australian-Japanese relations

which on the Australian side you jointly sponsored with the Department of Foreign Affairs. I spoke to the Japanese about the importance of foreign investment policies which respected the

sensitivities of the Australian community.

So I'm no stranger to the Institute and am grateful for the opportunity to address the ACT Branch on what I see as the confused priorities and missed opportunities of the Hawke

Government's foreign policy over the last six years.

I want also to put down some of the basic philosophy behind the

Opposition's policy which was released here a few months ago.


Mr Kelty graces us with an even money chance of becoming the next Government and therefore even on his assessment, discussion of the Opposition's alternative foreign policy is important.

The Government has not put down in the parliament any

philosophical or intellectual basis for its foreign policy beyond one speech of Mr Hayden in 1985 as compared to Defence, where there has at least been an effort to assess our place in the world and to build policies responding to that assessment. In

foreign affairs there is no such bench mark.

The record of this government can be divided into two parts: that when Mr Hayden was Foreign Minister, and after his elevation, that when Mr Hawke has been the de facto Foreign Minister (much to the irritation of the de jure title holder).

The first period I believe will be seen in hindsight as a period in which Australia drifted aimlessly. The second as a time when policy choices were based on emotionalism, domestic political

opportunity and personal relationships rather than logic and rationalism.

The background scene is one of rapid change. The growing economic

might of Japan, increasing economic challenges to the US which might eventually undermine its strategic security role, a degree

of economic unification in Europe which is on-going and

staggering and the growth of the NICs - South Korea, Taiwan, and Singapore - into powerful economies. It is a period with new economic players entering the field - such as Thailand, and India

and China evidencing growing economic and military capacities.

It has been a period of significant change in superpower

relations with the elimination of a whole range of nuclear weapons, of signs of great hope in the reduction of conventional forces in Europe and then possibly short range nuclear weapons.


It will be looked back upon as a period of dramatic change in the Eastern bloc, the Soviet Union, "Glasnost", "Perestroika", reform in the satellites led by Poland and Hungary and also the economic liberalisation in China.

It will also be seen as a time which saw the end of such

intransigent world problems as the Iran-Iraq war, the occupation of Afghanistan and probably the end of the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia.

Australia to this background of dynamic change has become economically weaker (demonstrated by the reduction of the aid vote every year of the Hawke Government) and less able to influence events. In foreign relations terms we have been

increasingly unclear of our place in the world, not because we have changed, but because there has been a lack of direction and of clear priorities and we haven't therefore kept pace with the

pace of change occurring elsewhere.

In the U.N. we are still in W.E.O.G (Western Europe and Other Groups), but Europe ever increasingly caucusses, the Nordics caucus, Canada grows ever closer to the US and we are left drifting (with NZ). In UNESCO we are part of the Asia group - a

foot in each camp.

Economically we have turned to Asia for trade but we've never made the level of investment which demonstrates a real

commitment. We have been uncertain, wary of different cultures

and values.

We flirt from time to time with becoming a member of ASEAN but they don't want us. Occasionally we wonder whether we could join the European community only to be diplomatically reminded by

Prime Minister Rocard of France that they had to define Europe in

some way and they chose geography. We still lean heavily upon the


US for support and confidence and whilst we share many values and no doubt would be supported by the US in a situation of major crisis, the wheat debate has demonstrated that the US may have agendas that don't always coincide with ours. (Which doesn't mean

that we enhance our national dignity by the sort of offensive public comments made by Hawke Ministers of Vice President Quayle when he was in Australia as our guest.)

The South Pacific was always the area in which we claimed special knowledge - a claim shattered during the course of this

government by its inability to read events in Fiji. Because we couldn't understand what was happening we didn't know how to respond. The Government then advised the Parliament that things were returning to normal and the second coup occurred. The Government then resumed part aid declaring itself satisfied with

progress in Human Rights and the new Constitution only to embarassingly admit the lack of progress - and of course there is still not a Constitution.

And in New Caledonia where we took sides to whip France with a stick - which turned out to be a twig - when economically the Government found it had little choice but to resume uranium sales. Australia would have done better by seeking to narrow

differences between the Melanesian people and those of European

heritage. In the end they got together without our help.

In PNG where the Hawke Government unilaterally and without notice cut aid in 1986 immediately after bi-laterally agreeing to the new aid package. If we wouldn't stand by a just completed

agreement, what sort of confidence does that engender?

The mistake was almost repeated a week ago when Senator Evans wanted to renege from an agreement made to supply helicopters.


We fumbled in Indochina because the Foreign Minister failed to read the politics of ASEAN and understand the sensitivities of the ASEAN states.

The lack of confidence engendered was cemented by the unfortunate revelations of Mr Hayden's personal assessments of regional leaders - which tended to confirm the suspicion of what our

neighbours thought was our attitude.

The alternative priorities to building influence within the region, adopted by Labor, were the high profile fora particularly disarmament where we bathed in self congratulations - without accepting the reality that nothing would change until the

superpowers were satisfied of their strategic interests.

It doesn't mean we should not have been in the debate - but we should not have seen it as an alternative to the priorities within the region.

This unreal image which the Hawke Government built around our claimed capacity to influence world events shielded our failure to carve out a niche more commensurate with our economic, political and defence capacities.

Exit Mr Hayden, enter Mr Hawke and the foreign politics of emotion and personal relationships. Mr Hawke attacked Indonesia

for failing to launch an inquiry into the death of Mr David Blenkinsop at the same time as the B.B.C. News was reporting on the decision to hold an inquiry. Clearly he was acting on emotion

without obtaining the necessary information.

Mr Hawke then publicly humiliates Senator Evans for Australia's recent speech to the U.N. on the Middle East when a copy had been sent to his office for approval. It was a case of superimposing

his views of foreign policy - on the run.


And then the two major issues of recent times - the so-called "Hawke Regional Initiative" and Australia's response to the crisis in China, both of which demonstrate major shortcomings in foreign relations terms.

Anyone who has followed the Pacific Basin debate would know the

years of work that had been contributed through PECC, through Mr Nakasone's proposals, through the MITI proposals, by the US, and by others.

But Mr Hawke needed something positive to claim for his trip to South Korea - so this work was hijacked to become the Hawke personal initiative with all the trappings of Special Envoys and the like.

It has been variously referred to modestly as not only his "new initiative" but as a "grand design" or even "blueprint" for greater regional cooperation.

It was announced without planning or consultation. Departmental Secretary Woolcott was despatched to patch up the mess.

The US was to be excluded but Japan insisted to the contrary. The US has now made it clear that it will imprint its mark upon any

such body.

China was to be excluded, subsequently included and then out

again. Secretary of State Jamies Baker warned on 26th June that any future Pacific Economic Cooperation would have to include China, so last week Senator Evans conceded that China should be

included (in due course).

The small Pacific States are excluded although part of the

Pacific Basin concept was to assist them.


* ยท

Senator Evans had said that none of the existing structures including ASEAN meet the requirement for a broad regional dialogue at the inter-governmental level but now, to get ASEAN ministers to a conference in Canberra, states that he has an

"open mind" on whether the trade forum should be based on the existing ASEAN dialogue structure.

The structure, powers and framework of the Hawke plan are equally unclear. At best it seems the Prime Minister has in mind a body similar to the OECD.

The concerns of the Opposition are not the question of furthering Asia-Pacific economic cooperation. Andrew Peacock played a greater role than most towards that objective in the late 70s, leading to the first Pacific Economic Cooperation Conference


Our concerns are that there was no plan, no clear objectives, none of the sort of consultation with neighbour states that builds confidence that Australia knows where it is going. Even with the efforts since, it is still unclear as to how it is going

to advance Australia's interests - if it is to be simply an information-sharing body. The OECD concept had been looked at

before but never thought to contribute enough.

It is this ad hoc approach to foreign policy making, that we object to. There is no plan, no blue print and no goals. It is

just another idea so that a trip to Korea could be claimed to

have achieved something positive.

The Opposition would continue to work towards closer integration of the Australian economy with those of the Region and continue to search for formulae, bilaterally and multi-laterally that would facilitate locking Australia into levels of growth being

achieved by our neighbours.


From the ad hocery of Hawke's Pacific initiative I move to the tragedy of China and Australia's response.

We believe that under Mr Hawke, Australia's view of China has been distorted. China has been given undue emphasis over the period of this Government at the expense of other opportunities. The deference to Beijing is demonstrated by our closetted attitude to Taiwan and is ongoing as demonstrated by the Government's plan to form a new airline to fly to Taipei - not

our national carrier.

The basis of this rose-coloured glasses approach is unclear. In part it seems to be Mr Hawke's personal assessment of the Chinese leadership demonstrated by a quote after meeting Deng Xiaoping in 1986:

"It has been stimulating and moving in a sense to see this grand

old man who has committed his life to seeing the uplifting of his people."

This obscured rationality to the extent that Mr Hawke was reported as saying of our two systems that "the different economic structures are actually a source of strength for our bilateral partnership."

And in Singapore,

"If you look at China I think it is impossible to identify any locus of power which either can or wants to change the

thrust of what is happening."

And even now the headlines from the US read on the 30th June "West Must Stick with Deng to Open China, Says Hawke".

Perhaps it in part explains the double standards we demonstrated to human rights abuses in China, so well documented for so long. When welcoming Premier Li Peng as an honoured guest Mr Hawke made


no mention of our concerns about human rights abuses in China.

And Mr Hayden's visit to Tibet in 1986, interpreted by our journalists and no doubt by the Chinese government as follows:

The Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Mr Hayden has laid down a practical political line in Lhasa, promoting the realities of growing political and economic importance of China to Australia above the strong impression of human rights concern in Tibet."

So it is not surprising that the Hawke Government's response to the atrocities of Tienanmen Square and the continuing purge has been somewhat wimpish and it would have been what the Chinese Government expected.

Certainly we expressed great anguish, and the Prime Minister wrote a letter to Li Peng, but just compare our response to Canada's .

Canada withdrew its Ambassador for consultations; it reacted immediately and more generously to Chinese students in Canada.

Canada sought to pursue human rights actions in UN agencies. It withdrew from a number of assistance projects which could be seen

as supporting the State as opposed to the Chinese people.

Australia will finally consider a further response tomorrow . We were told a fortnight ago nothing could be done until Mr Hawke (but not Senator Evans) returned from his travels.

The Opposition sought withdrawal of the Australian ambassador for

consultations as a diplomatic protest and asked that Australia seek a coordinated Western response to the tragedy. In the Parliament Ministers declined. We said that aid should be on the



We don't wish to isolate China but we only debase our own

fundamental beliefs in freedom by the minimal level of protest that has been adopted by the Hawke Government.

What we hope comes out of our Foreign Affairs Policy by contrast is a better appreciation of reality, greater consistency and clear priorities.

We express greater caution about reforms taking place in the Communist world, and sadly in the case of China our cautions have been vindicated.

That doesn't mean we don't encourage those reforms but the test is still to come, as and when the power elites are themselves threatened by the reform process.

Maintenance of our basic security remains paramount and support of the Democracies the key.

We clearly express a bias in orientation towards this region. We want Australia to rebuild its understanding of the Pacific but in their terms not just in ours. PNG retains a special place in this challenge.

We want to deepen Australia's understanding of Asia so that with greater skill we can build Australia's role in the region politically but particularly economically. This will require a greater emphasis on trade development, cultural and education exchanges, language training, support for regional organisations,

defence cooperation and astute diplomacy.

There must be a real commitment rather than just a forward


We will as we state in the Policy, foster democratic processes and support democratic governments within our resources and again that particularly relates to the region.

Finally, within our resources which have become more limited under this Government, we will seek to assist those whose development has not reached the stage of ours - again giving

priority to the Asia-Pacific region.

It is our view that with the policy prescription we have put forward, Australia can become more outward looking, more confident and more relevant than it is today. It will then be better able to keep pace with the incredible change that is occurring around us.