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Thursday, 1 September 1994
Page: 792

Senator HARRADINE —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. The minister has been involved in the establishment of yet another eminent persons group—this time for APEC. Is it not just a touch elitist to use the term `eminent', which is frequently problematically used in the medical research area? Is it not a fact that many of the eminent persons are ex-politicians, ex-parliamentarians, and if they are eminent persons, what does that make us—pre-eminent? Would the minister please not use that sort of elitist word?

Senator GARETH EVANS —It takes all sorts of things to encourage people to engage in public service. Some people seem to require money; others are happy to settle for the honour and glory of it; and for some others, it is the status that counts. When one is putting together these sorts of bodies of distinguished people to do work, essentially for nothing but because of the policy significance of it, it has just become quite customary around the world—and I think it loses a bit in translation in English because of the portentous character of it—to use this particular description.

  I think it was first employed in the context of the Eminent Persons Group in South Africa in which Malcolm Fraser had no difficulty in accepting that mantle that was bestowed on him. It has become quite common currency in other contexts in Europe and elsewhere. Of course, it does have extremely honourable foundations, but I would not wish to suggest there are any theological connotations associated with Neville Wran or anybody else who is in this particular group.

  The truth of the matter is that this is a very distinguished group of people and it is appropriate that their distinction be reflected not only in the quality of their work and the recognition it gets but in the way in which we refer to them. I share a little of Senator Harradine's discomfort about these semantic matters, but it is a matter of inheriting usage that has been around for some considerable time.

  Might I conclude by saying that the quality of its report justifies the title of the group. I think it is an excellent effort to wend a course through some very difficult conceptual problems, as Senator McMullan indicated earlier in question time today, and it has given us an outstanding foundation on which to build at the APEC meeting in November.