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Hawke's responsibilities lie at home

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John Hewson Leader of the Opposition M e d i a R e l e a s e

247/91 12 October 1991


The Prime Minister should call off his trip to Zimbabwe for the Commonwealth Conference and stay home to deal with Australia's economic crisis.

In the past week alone, unemployment has topped 10%, the Labor Government has been wracked by internal dissension over Medicare, the Cabinet has been rolled by Caucus, and a Minister is defying Cabinet authority over construction of the third Sydney runway.

With his Government in disarray, Mr Hawke is preparing to jet off tomorrow to play international statesman for 10 days in Africa.

But Mr Hawke will carry little weight in Harare.

The Labor Government's response to events in South Africa has been belated, misjudged and unbalanced.

Senator Evans' clumsy diplomacy has offended the South African Government and major black political organisations except, of course, the ANC which has been singled out by Canberra for

special favourable treatment including a substantial political donation from the Australian taxpayers.

The Government has confused opposition to apartheid with active support for the A N C .

Mr Hawke will be even more irrelevant in Harare than he was at last year's South Pacific Forum when he was described by local journalists as "following Ratu Mara around like a little white sheepdog".

There are precedents for Prime Ministers to miss Commonwealth Conferences and despite his gaffes in South Africa, Senator Evans is capable of standing in for Mr Hawke in Harare.

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Too often, Mr Hawke has used international events to distract attention from Australia's domestic problems. His proper place is in Canberra trying to breathe some life into an economy

knocked flat by Paul Keating's high interest rate policy and the Government's almost total inaction on fundamental economic reform.

The Prime Minister hopes that a few days strutting the

international stage in Harare, followed by the visit of President Bush in December, then Christmas and summer sport, topped off by the Queen's visit in February, will distract Australians from the dreadful state of the economy.

But Australia's one million unemployed and the millions more living with job insecurity will not be deflected so easily.

Another few months of political distraction and putting off essential policy decisions to committees of inquiry will see more businesses fail, more Australians lose their jobs and more families forced onto welfare.