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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 91

Mrs GASH (3:25 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister explain to the House why strong alliance relationships are vital to Australia’s security? Are our alliance relationships in good repair? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies, and what is the government’s response?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Gilmore. This is the last question time of the first six months of this year, and I appreciate the many members of the government who have asked me questions on great issues of foreign policy.

Mrs Irwin —This sounds like a testimonial!

The SPEAKER —The member for Fowler is warned!

Mr DOWNER —But not one member of the opposition has asked a single question about foreign policy in six months. That shows you how little they value the great things of Australian foreign policy like the strong alliance we have with the United States—

Mr Bowen interjecting

The SPEAKER —The member for Prospect is warned!

Mr DOWNER —which they want to downgrade; the ties we have been building up with Japan, China, Indonesia and India; the pride with which we promote our country around the world; and the respect which Australia has won in many parts of the world.

All I can say in answer to the honourable member’s question about alternative approaches is that the reason that the opposition has not asked any questions about this issue in six months is that it does not fit in with the spin, it does not fit in with the Hawker Britton strategy and it does not fit in with the insincere and superficial approach that the Leader of the Opposition takes to public issues. But the Leader of the Opposition has occasionally ventured into the area of foreign policy and, of course, professes to be a great expert. Honourable members might recall that he made an overseas trip to the United States of America. They may not recall that, while he was in the United States of America, he did not meet with one single political leader, Democrat or Republican. So the main thing was that there were pictures of him in America, and it did not matter what happened in terms of the substance.

Honourable members might remember that the Leader of the Opposition was planning a second overseas visit, and that was to Vietnam. He was going to go to Long Tan and set up a fake dawn service with the Sunrise program. He told the media that he did not know anything about it. Two days later, it was revealed that his office knew all about it. Of course, that is life in the fast lane. Honourable members may remember that the Leader of the Opposition was then going to go to China—one of his great initiatives. He was to lead Australia on initiatives to deal with China, where he once served as a junior diplomat, and to build a climate change relationship with China. He then claimed, when it did not suit him to go—and we all know why he did not go to China—that there were scheduling difficulties.

When the Leader of the Opposition sees trade union leaders behaving badly on TV—not when he knows they are behaving badly but when he sees a picture of them on TV behaving badly: swearing, bullying and threatening—he demands that those people resign from the Labor Party. That is apparently the line in the sand. But, when the Leader of the Opposition is exposed over the so-called Sunrise scandal in relation to the Long Tan fake service, he rings up the editors of newspapers and he threatens them and bullies them and swears at them but apparently does not have to resign from the Labor Party because it is not recorded by a television camera. My point is this: the Leader of the Opposition, coming to the end of this session, is a person who has been exposed as superficial and driven by focus groups and the advice of Hawker Britton, which is all very well if, beneath it all, there is a person of substance. But he is not a leader of substance; he is a weak and directionless Leader of the Opposition.

Mr Howard —Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.