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Transcript of interview with the Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Robert Hill, by Matthew Abraham of 2CN (ABC) at 8.50am on Friday, March 8, 1991



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PARLIAMENT OF AUSTRALIA · THE SENATE

SENATOR ROBERT HILL

LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

PARLIAMENT HOUSE

CANBERRA, A.C.T. 2600 PHONE (06) 277 3170 FACSIMILE (06) 277 3177

Friday, March 8 Canberra

TRANSCRIPT OF INTERVIEW WITH THE SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS, SENATOR ROBERT HILL, BY MATTHEW ABRAHAM OF 2CN (ABC) AT 8.50AM ON FRIDAY, MARCH 8, 1991.

MATTHEW ABRAHAM: Senator Robert Hill is Leader of the Opposition in the Senate and the Opposition spokesman on foreign affairs and joins us each fortnight, alternating with Labor Senator Chris Schacht, to talk about politics and he's with us now. Good morning Senator.

SENATOR HILL: Hello Matthew.

MA: Senator Hill, firstly the interesting case of former Western Australian Premier Brian Burke, our Ambassador to Ireland and the Holy See, who's back in Australia for the WA Inc. hearings. Is he an embarrassment to us?

SH: Well, that's a very major word, embarrassment, isn't it. I think there is really a major question as to whether it's appropriate that he continue as Ambassador. He came back to give evidence - well, actually he only came back to confer with his

legal advisers - and went into a major round of media engagements, including one that was titled "Ask the Ambassador". It really is unprecedented that an Australian diplomatic representative is engaged in this sort of political activity. And the evidence that continues to come out is disturbing from our point of view. Particularly now the fact that we know that he engaged Robert Smith, who subsequently has been convicted of phone-tapping offences to gather evidence on Liberal politicians. And in all those circumstances I don't think he's an appropriate

person to continue in that role.

MA: So the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Evans, in your view should withdraw him as Ambassador?

SH: Yes, I believe so. Certainly if it was anyone else other than Mr Burke it would have happened some time ago. And we've put this to Senator Evans and he keeps reverting to the defence of saying: "Well, the Royal Commission will do its work." But the Royal Commission will meet for months, if not years. Presumably Mr Burke is going to be back from Ireland during the whole of this period. He goes back after he finishes talking, so called talking

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to his legal advisers, but no doubt will then return for the hearings. And what we're interested (in), of course, is Australia's representation overseas. We had a European Community Parliament delegation here this week and they were really quite bemused by the saga of Mr Burke.

MA: They were aware of the ins and outs of it, were they?

SH: Oh yes, they were. There were Irish representatives on the group. And I don't think that any other country would tolerate a diplomatic representative behaving in the way that Mr Burke is. We don't want to prejudge him, but the important point is the nature of Australia's representative. He is Australia in his

function in Ireland and clearly is not prepared to change his spots in relation to his political activities as was shown by his media arrangements upon returning to Australia. He's just not behaving in the way that an Australian Ambassador appropriately

should behave.

MA: Senator Hill, we know you've interrupted a committee meeting to join us this morning and that meeting was looking at the issue of whether Federal police should be limited in the time they can have to question suspects, quite a controversial area. What's the tone of the debate at this stage?

SH: Well, its under Commonwealth law. But the Federal Police Association have been particularly interested because they argue that the offences they deal with are often more complex than others. And what the Hawke Government is seeking to do is to

limit the time that an arrested person can be questioned to four hours. They argue, the Federal Police Association argues, that that would thwart them in their function, that they wouldn't be able to properly complete their investigation and their questioning within that period of time. And that is also our view. We say that there was nothing wrong with the old system, which in common law was that a "reasonable" period was allowed

and that a judge ultimately determines whether the police were "reasonable" in their questioning. And the Police Association (is) here in full force this morning putting their case as vigorously as they always do. But I'm not too sure it'll get far

in the end because the Democrats have got the balance of power on this committee and they've indicated to date anyway that they would prefer a fixed period and, therefore, the Police Association may well be unsuccessful.

MA: Senator Hill, just quickly. You're soon off to Taiwan with a delegation, Opposition delegation. I understand that it attracted some fairly strong criticism from the Chinese Government. Has there been any reconsideration of the trip in light of that?

SH: No. That's the trip that I'm going (on) with John Hews on. We're, in fact, taking ten leading Australian businesspeople as it's very much a business delegation. We think that that is important in Australia's interest. The Australian Government, its Ministers, won't go to Taiwan with businessmen or not. And, of

course, as you know, Taiwan's just imposed further restrictions on our beef imports. Unless you're prepared to talk to them you don't have any opportunity to influence a change of view. The

Chinese have come down hard - that's correct. But it's not in conflict with our obligation to China and we think our national interest should take priority. I think the Australian Government should act that way. If they had've acted that way by now we would have direct air links with Taiwan, which would be of a major economic advantage to this country. So, no, we won't change our mind.

MA: Senator Hill, I'll let you get back to your committee meeting.

SH: Thank you very much, Matthew.

MA: Thank you. Opposition spokesman on foreign affairs and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Liberal Senator Robert Hill.

(ends)

Enquiries: Senator Hill or Mark Batistich on (06) 277 3170