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Taiwan and South Africa: The Opposition provides the real lead

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

166/91 13 June 1991


The Hawke Government seems to have finally accepted the logic of the Opposition's views on Australia's relations with Taiwan. It is time it did the same on South Africa.

The ALP Conference later this month is set to approve a motion regulating bilateral commercial and trade ties with Taiwan within existing diplomatic constraints. The Opposition has been arguing that case for a long time. It was the reason why

earlier this year I broke the ice and led a senior Australian business delegation to Taiwan.

It is satisfying that, despite the Government's denigration of our Taiwan policy in the past, it now seems on the verge of adopting the most important aspects of it.

The Government should do the same on South Africa.

Senator Evans's current visit to South Africa is unravelling in a way that is quite counter-productive to Australia's interests. His visit is fast becoming a policy embarrassment and a public relations disaster. His interventions on South Africa's internal situation are being widely seen as clumsy,

patronising and ill-informed.

The most unfortunate aspect of Senator Evans's visit is that it now means that an important opportunity has been lost.

If Senator Evans has been prepared to listen and learn, rather than to preach and grandstand, Australian interests would have been far better served.

If he had been prepared to meet with all representative groups in South Africa with an open mind, and not to play favourites among them, he would have been in a better position to implement changes to current Australian policy that would make

it more realistic.

It comes as little surprise that Chief Buthelezi, the leader of one of South Africa's main black representative groups, publicly confronted Senator Evans with the unreality of his policy and told him openly that he was "very, very wrong".

The Opposition has been telling the Government the same thing for months.


. We have been telling the Government that its South Africa policy is based on emotion not realism and that it is out of step with the tide of events both within and outside Africa.

. We have been telling the Government that it is playing a dangerous and unnecessary game in deluding itself about its "special relationship" with the African National Congress.

. We told the Government at the time of Mr Mandela's visit to Australia that it should also invite Chief Buthelezi and other South African black leaders to Australia as well.

. We have been telling the Government that it needs to act decisively in relaxing trade, economic and financial sanctions if it is really interested in improving the living standards and opportunities of South Africa's black population.

If the Prime Minister and Senator Evans refuse to listen to us, they should at least be listening to what representative leaders in South Africa are saying. But neither of them are good listeners.

Senator Evans has aggravated that inability by the noisy heavy-handedness with which he has made his presence in South Africa felt.

The tragedy is that the longer the Prime Minister, Senator Evans and others in the Government continue to grandstand on the South African issue, the more irrelevant Australian policy will become and the more unlikely Australia will be to act as a constructive influence when the new, post-apartheid South Africa emerges.