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Wednesday, 11 November 1992
Page: 2720

Senator GARETH EVANS (Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade) (10.24 a.m.) —I heartily endorse that comment, Mr Chairman. It has absolutely nothing to do with anything in the Appropriations, but it will give me the opportunity to respond quickly to set this particular piece of nonsense at rest.

  The story that came out from Hong Kong from the South China Morning Post was really a grotesque and irresponsible piece of misreporting. The conversation reported by the journalist was a totally off-the-record piece of banter exchanged with journalists in a drinks session following a press conference.

Senator Hill —Oh!

Senator GARETH EVANS —Let me explain the context. I noticed while we were engaged in this chatter that the journalist in question was holding out a tape recorder. I said to him directly and immediately, `For God's sake, this is just off-the-record banter. Under no circumstances should this be reported'. And he did that in a complete breach of faith.

  The situation, very simply, was this: I was most unhappy to hear from one of the Governor's staff members while I was waiting to go into the interview that a puppy belonging to the Governor's family had been lost the night before. A great deal of scouring of the neighbourhood had gone on to find it. The first thing I expressed to the Governor when I went in there, in a spirit of sympathetic solidarity—because I know very well what the impact of such a loss would be on my own family—was condolences about it. I did so again at the end of the meeting.

  That was as far as my exchange with the Governor went. It is totally absurd to say that he was preoccupied with that to the extent of conducting the affairs of state or that this in any way dominated the conversation. That was the extent of the exchange with the Governor. I remain sympathetic to that. It is not an issue which any dog owner or dog lover or member of a family that has dogs that they cherish would treat in other than a sympathetic way.

  When the conversation arose with the journalist in question, in the context which I have just described, I just happened to mention in passing that the Governor's dog had been lost and that it was creating something of a stir at Government House and that I had expressed sympathy to him towards it. Someone at that stage made a tasteless remark—to coin a phrase—about the likely attractiveness of the Governor's dog to those who might be minded to embark on some exercise in Cantonese cuisine as a result.

  I responded to that particular sally by saying that in fact I had heard in gossip in Beijing that Deng Xiaoping, who is a Sichuanese and for whom dog is a delicacy, did have some culinary tastes of that kind. And that was a quick exchange of banter of that kind in a totally off-the-record context, and it is just absolutely outrageous that the thing should have been reported at all.

  As soon as I heard about this late last night, I did immediately communicate with our Consul-General in Hong Kong and asked her to convey my concern to the Governor that the thing had been misrepresented in that way and my disgust at the irresponsible way in which the journalist had behaved.

Senator Hill —Did you apologise to the Chinese?

Senator GARETH EVANS —It is not a matter of apologising to the Chinese because nothing has been said by me in any context that justifies an apology. I welcome the opportunity to set the record straight on that one because it is just a classic example of the way in which a piece of outrageous misreporting can also take off.

  I might also say, while I am about it, that at one stage I used the expression `kicking against the pricks' to describe the approach of the present Chinese Government.

Senator Hill —`Marxist pricks'.

Senator GARETH EVANS —Let me clarify the record. In the open press conference at one stage I referred to the inevitability, in my judgment, of the achievement of political liberalisation following the economic liberalisation and the way in which Marxist ideology in fact would lead to that conclusion. And I suggested accordingly, in the context of that discussion, that it might be well for the present Chinese leadership to recognise that inevitability rather than, as I said, `kicking against the Marxist pricks'—referring, of course, to a very familiar piece of phraseology which had its first appearance, as I recall, in the Bible.

Senator Bishop —I don't believe this! You're an embarrassment.

Senator GARETH EVANS —No, I mention this because this is about to take off also. Acts, chapter 9, verse 5, says:

  And he said, Who art thou Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

I say this because the journalist who wrote in the Courier-Mail this morning, clearly utterly unfamiliar with the expression or its origins in the Bible, wrote an article in that newspaper saying that I am referring to the Chinese as `Marxist pricks'. I take this as another illustration of the difficulties we all confront when dealing with thick-headed journalists who are irresponsible but determined nonetheless to make an issue of things that arise in this way. I hope Senator Kemp will exercise a little more responsibility than some members of the profession.

The CHAIRMAN —Order! That matter has nothing to do with the Estimates. I will not permit any further questions on that matter.

Senator Bishop —Oh, Mr Chairman!

The CHAIRMAN —It has nothing to do with the Estimates.

Senator Bishop —You can't protect him like that; he's a gauche man.

The CHAIRMAN —If there are any questions on the non-program specific item, as listed on the running sheet, I will take them.

Senator Kemp —Mr Chairman, I still wish to refer to the education program in China. Senator Evans raised a couple of issues which I think clearly come under this particular rubric. I point out to you that the purpose of this education program in China is to improve relations between Australia and China. Senator Evans has apparently referred to an unnamed group of people publicly as Marxist pricks. Who are these people that Senator Evans was referring to?

The CHAIRMAN —Order!

Senator Kemp —This is clearly within—

The CHAIRMAN —Order! This is nothing to do with the non-program specific matter which is listed in the Estimates. If Senator Kemp wishes to raise the matter later, he may be able to do so but certainly not here. Is there anything further in relation to non-program specific items?