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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 2068

Mr SECKER (2:09 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister inform the House of steps this government is taking against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction? Are there any alternative views?

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —First of all, I notice the Labor Party says there are not any weapons of mass destruction. I wish I lived in that world. I thank the honourable member for Barker for his question and for asking about a serious issue. Ever since we came to office, the government have taken strong and even, one could say, enthusiastic steps to deal with the issue of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It was our government that brought the comprehensive test ban treaty to the United Nations General Assembly in September 1996 and had it passed by a massive majority in the General Assembly to become part of the international non-proliferation regime. We did help to rid the world of Saddam Hussein, the only head of government in office at that time who had used weapons of mass destruction and the only one in history who has used weapons of mass destruction against his own people. We have been a core member of the Proliferation Security Initiative, designed to interdict so that countries are not able to trade in illicit weapons of mass destruction materials. We have supported Security Council resolution 1540 to criminalise the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction materials, and we have been a very high profile member of the international community in other ways in promoting weapons of mass destruction related export controls, especially in our capacity as the chair of the Australia Group.

Next week I will be going to North Korea, and I will do what I can to try to encourage the North Koreans to abandon their nuclear programs along the lines that have been put forward by five members of the six-party talks. Today I have here in Canberra the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council—the chief foreign policy maker of Iran, I suppose you could say. We have already had one round of talks, and we will be meeting again this evening. On our agenda, amongst other issues, is Iran's nuclear program. Obviously we want to see Iran fully cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency and fulfil all of its obligations under the International Atomic Energy Agency. I do not think even the government's worst critics—and most of them are sitting across from me—would say that this government has not been highly active in dealing with the issue of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

Are there any alternative policies? Yes, there are alternative policies. There are the policies of the opposition. The member for Griffith said back in February of last year that the Labor Party would produce a foreign policy white paper before the next election so we could see what Labor's approach to these issues would be. The foreign policy white paper is apparently somewhat delayed, so we await its appearance. In any case, short of the white paper appearing, there are a couple of Labor policies on non-proliferation that I have detected. First of all, apparently the Labor Party opposes the Proliferation Security Initiative. There are 60 countries that now support it, but the Labor Party apparently opposes it—presumably because the Proliferation Security Initiative was originally an American idea and therefore it is a bit suspicious.

However, the Labor Party does have another policy, which it announced three years ago. I have checked the web site, and it has not been changed. It said that on the election of a Labor government it would establish a new equivalent of the Canberra Commission—that is, a commission of distinguished people who would look into how the weapons of mass destruction agenda can be taken forward. I thought to myself: that is quite an interesting initiative, because the Keating government had the Canberra Commission. I had another look at this Labor Party initiative—and it is still its policy today—and who is the Labor Party going to appoint as the chairman of its committee of inquiry? Richard Butler, the former governor, is the man whom it has identified as the chairman of its new Canberra Commission. The former opposition spokesman on foreign affairs, the member for Kingsford Smith, who announced this policy, said that Richard Butler is the right person because he has the track record and the form. He has a bit of money as well, so I hope he will do this job gratis. I think $650,000 should cover him for this job as well.

The member for Kingsford Smith also noted that Mr Butler `indicated that he would have the time and all the commitment to give this initiative of ours a good deal of endeavour'. So it brings to light something. It brings to light the secret meeting in Hobart, I think it was in March, between the Leader of the Opposition and Richard Butler, all officials pushed out of the room, just Mark and Richard together, just the two of them obviously—it is obvious what was happening—confirming the Canberra Commission job. It is obvious. But I just ask the Labor Party, when they do become the government: please do not pay him; he has enough money already.

Honourable members interjecting

The SPEAKER —Order! Members on both sides are denying the Leader of the Opposition the call, including the member for Braddon and the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

The SPEAKER —Minister for education!

The SPEAKER —The member for Swan is warned!