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Keating gets into difficulties on foreign policy issues



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

90/92 30 March 1992

KEATING GETS INTO DIFFICULTIES ON FOREIGN POLICY ISSUES

If the Prime Minister's statements at Question Time today are any indication, Senator Evans will have a lot of damage control work to do, especially within his own Party, whenever the Prime Minister ventures into foreign policy.

On the issue of aid to Indonesia, the Opposition and the

Government share a good deal of common ground. Like the

Government, we do not believe that a reduction of aid to

Indonesia is appropriate.

But the Prime Minister has gone much further. He has ruled out any conditionality in the giving of any Australian aid in

relation to the human rights record of its recipients . He said:

"Australia has not in the past made its aid policies conditional upon precise arrangements for what the Leader of the Opposition calls human rights

arrangements. And the fact is, Mr Speaker, it's not linked. It's not linked, and hasn't been linked and won't be during the visit."

If that is so, then the Prime Minister has undermined an

important basis upon which this Government has implemented its foreign aid policy over recent years.

If there is, in general terms, absolutely no linkage between the giving of Australian aid and human rights issues, why did the Government, over recent years, suspend its aid program with China and Fiji? Why has it suspended its aid program with Burma?

If there is no linkage, why did the then responsible Minister, Dr Blewett, say in his 1991 Annual Aid Statement that:

"by broadening Australia's relationship with

developing countries, aid can increase the

opportunities for Australia to raise human rights issues."

There is, as Dr Blewett rightly pointed out, no automatic or identical linkage. But Mr Keating's contention that there is no linkage is not one that is reflected in the foreign aid policies of any Western country over recent years.

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The Prime Minister has set a remarkable precedent for Australia's aid program which Senator Evans will need to quickly correct.

On the issue of East Timor, the Opposition essentially agrees that the issue of sovereignty is closed and that the priority is to improve the situation of the East Timorese people.

But the point is that Labor's Left do not agree with the Prime Minister on the issue of self-determination. The Co-Convenors of Labor's Left Caucus, Senators Childs and McKiernan, wrote to Senator Evans on 13 November last year asking him to "play a more

activist role" to "assist the United Nations in securing the right to self-determination for the East Timorese".

At least, the Prime Minister has clearly settled that issue today. .

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