Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31517


Mr NAIRN (2:02 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister inform the House of the attitude of countries in East Asia to cooperation with the United States? Is Australia's alliance with the United States an asset in our relationship with Asia? Are there any alternative views?


Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Eden-Monaro for his question and for his interest because, as he would know only too well, the vast majority of countries in Asia value very much their relationship with the United States and have a close relationship with that country. They have regular military training exercises. They have counter-terrorism cooperation—indeed, to such an extent that their counter-terrorism cooperation has led to the arrest of Hambali and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Regional support for the Proliferation Security Initiative is growing. Japan and Singapore are core members. New Zealand and Thailand are participating in meetings on the PSI. Importantly, Japan supports the missile defence initiative. Defence Minister Ishiba said at the end of last year, `Missile defence is indispensable for Japan's security.'

Significantly, many countries in Asia have troops in Iraq supporting the Iraqi people and the coalition more generally—Japan has over 500; South Korea has 660 and is proposing to send a further 3,000; and Mongolia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand all have troops. This explodes the myth which is propagated in par-ticular by the opposition and some of their supporters that having involvement in Iraq damages us in Asia and having close relations with the United States damages us in Asia. Indeed, what is interesting is that countries in Asia are interested in a free trade agreement with the United States. Singapore has a free trade agreement with the United States. Negotiations with Thailand are to start. Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Brunei all have trade and investment facilitation agreements with the United States.

The Labor Party believe that you cannot have close relations with the United States and close relations with Asia. The Labor Party believe that the two are mutually contradictory. As a result, Labor argue that we should downgrade our relationship with the United States. We know that the Labor Party want to pull the troops out of Iraq. They reject the United States' right to defend its people from ballistic missile attack, by opposing the missile defence initiative. They are opposed, apparently, to the Proliferation Security Initiative, even though 60 countries support it. And when it comes to the free trade agreement with the United States, the Labor Party rejected that at the outset. Let us remember what the Leader of the Opposition said:

If we were asked to vote on it today, or in the parliament tomorrow, we would be opposing it.

And since then the Labor Party have constantly attacked the free trade agreement. They have raised the phoney issue of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme cost rises when in fact they are voting for cost rises of pharmaceuticals. They are against it if it has anything to do with the free trade agreement—and it doesn't—but they are in favour of it if it has nothing to do with the free trade agreement. The logic of that, I think, would escape almost all human beings, and it certainly escapes the electorate.

When it came to JSCOT, the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, it is perfectly clear that many but not quite all Labor members wanted to sign off in support of the free trade agreement, and at the last moment somebody contacted them and said, `You had better not go that far.' We understand that the contact came from the office of the Leader of the Opposition. In other words, `Instruct committee members on how to vote; make sure they do not support the free trade agreement,' because, in the end, Labor wants to maintain its image of being viscerally anti-American, which the Labor Party leadership is, and the Labor Party believes that it will enhance Australia's status in Asia by downgrading our relations with our alliance partner. It will have the reverse effect. It will make Australia look weak. It will make Australia isolationist. And you win no respect in Asia by being weak.