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Thursday, 27 May 2004
Page: 29377

Mr LLOYD (2:02 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister inform the House of the importance of Australia's alliance with the United States and the steps the government is taking to strengthen it? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —First, can I thank the honourable member for his question. I know he is one of the members on this side of the House who understands the importance of the American alliance. While the government does not agree with the American administration on everything—on the comprehensive test ban treaty, on the International Criminal Court, on some other private issues or on American agricultural trading policies—there is no doubt that we have a profoundly strong view that the alliance with the United States is fundamental to our security. During the war against terrorism, particularly in relation to the challenges we face in South-East Asia with Jemaah Islamiah and like organisations, the assistance that the United States is able to provide in that war against those terrorists—particularly the intelligence assistance, the defence technology, the tremendous dynamism that they are able to bring to regional diplomacy to encourage countries in the region to address those terrorists organisations—is fundamentally important to our national interests. It is not surprising that over the last eight years the government has unashamedly strengthened the alliance with the United States. We have fought together in the war against terrorism. We of course cooperate in Iraq. We have negotiated a free trade agreement with the United States. We have worked very closely together on the issue of counter-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction—a very good example of that being our support for the Proliferation Security Initiative—and we are working with the Americans on the issue of missile defence.

Are there any alternative policies? Well, the interesting thing about the opposition on this issue is that their positions are constantly changing and there are great divisions within the opposition. I do not think we should underestimate the depth of division there is in the opposition on the issue of the American alliance. As the House knows, the Leader of the Opposition has a history of making vicious and often rather foul-mouthed attacks on the United States, the alliance and the President of the United States, and I do not think we want to revisit that. But when the member for Werriwa became the Leader of the Opposition, he started, at the beginning of that time, to tell a different story, as though within a matter of a few days his whole personality had completely changed. Everything he had stood for had been abandoned when he went into the Labor Party caucus room and almost literally draped himself in the American flag—quite incomprehensible, really—and said, `I am a very strong supporter of the American alliance.'

What is interesting is that he has not been able to hold to that 4 December position for very long. Every sign is beginning to re-emerge of the Leader of the Opposition's anti-Americanism. The Leader of the Opposition opposes the free trade agreement with the United States, which offers us $6 billion a year. He is against missile defence cooperation. He is against the Proliferation Security Initiative. He wants to cut and run from Iraq and abandon our allies. There is not any sign that that curious event of 4 December was anything but yet another one of the Leader of the Opposition's publicity stunts—something at which he is a master. The fact is the Leader of the Opposition's anti-Americanism was illustrated by his decision to cancel his visit to the United States next month. He invented the excuse that there would be an early election, despite the fact that he is not only allowing his frontbenchers to go to America but—as the Treasurer pointed out yesterday—allowing the member for Hotham, for some reason, to go to Kenya.

Mr Hardgrave —Ask Laurie.

Mr DOWNER —What is interesting, though, about the Labor Party is the depth of the divisions on this issue. The member for Brand and Senator Ray, for example, who are unequivocal supporters of the American alliance, are finding their experience and advice is being ignored for that of Dangerman, the member for Kingsford Smith apparently; Paul Keating, who is a great source of advice; and even Gough Whitlam.

I thought it was very revealing that in the Bulletin of 18 May an informed source, talking in a very favourable article about the Leader of the Opposition, said, `Latham's private views about the Australian-American alliance are said to be extreme.' I think there is every sign that this is true. I think there is every sign that he rejects the Hawke legacy, he rejects the Beazley-Ray legacy, and that on these issues he adopts, apparently, the foreign policy of Dangerman. There is a curious juxtaposition here in the way the Leader of the Opposition seems so totally obsessed with the state of the union addresses of Bill Clinton and the writings of the glib Dick Morris. Other than that, it has to be said that there is a kind of visceral anti-Americanism coming through which I do not think, in the end, at a very difficult and dangerous time in global history, is for a moment going to be in the interests of Australia or the Australian people. I think it is about time the Leader of the Opposition—instead of playing games and thinking he can get away with saying absolutely nothing of any substance to the Australian public—came clean and started telling people a bit more about what he really believes in.