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Thursday, 17 October 2002
Page: 5413

Senator BROWN (3:46 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Defence (Senator Hill) to a question without notice asked by Senator Brown today relating to meetings between officials from the United States Embassy and candidates in the upcoming by-election in Cunningham, New South Wales.

In his answer, Senator Hill told the chamber that, as far as he knew, the government had not been approached by the US Embassy before its representatives went to the Cunningham region in Wollongong to quiz candidates for Saturday's by-election. This is a historic change in diplomatic courtesies in this country. Never before, so far as I know, has any country, hostile or friendly, ever intervened in a domestic election in this fashion. You would not find New Zealand doing it, you would not find the United Kingdom doing it and you would not find Germany or France doing it. I submit that you would not find Japan or China doing it—or Indonesia for that matter. The question immediately arises: why did representatives of the Bush administration not have the courtesy of contacting the government before they went to question candidates? Why, indeed, did they not come just across the road to Parliament House to speak to representatives of the Labor Party or the Australian Greens to ascertain policy on such matters as terrorism and the impending war on Iraq—the matters that have been cited as being of interest to the representatives of the Bush administration who have gone to Wollongong?

Instead of that, they have had the discourtesy to go straight to the Cunningham electorate and ask to quiz the candidates—at least the leading candidates—in these matters. I personally have no worry about that at all. I will be there with candidate Michael Organ from the Greens tomorrow to talk with the American representatives, and I will certainly have a few questions to ask them while we are at it. But you have to ask: why are they there, in this unprecedented incursion into domestic politics in our country? It is certainly high profile. They are there, I believe, to influence the candidates, if not to influence the electorate. This is not good diplomatic practice. I think it will backfire. I think they recognise that there are differences in the matter between the Labor Party, the Greens and, indeed, the union backed candidate, Peter Wilson. The Greens and Mr Wilson, as I understand it, are opposed to diverting Australian resources and defence personnel to Iraq at the behest of the Bush government. Labor is not so disposed at this point in time.

If there is an intention by the Bush administration to influence either the candidates or the electorate in Cunningham, they are making a very discourteous incursion and they are making a mistake. I do not believe that the people of Cunningham, any more than the people anywhere else in this country, will be positively influenced by a diplomatic mistake such as this. I reiterate that we have no trouble at any time talking with diplomats from the United States or any other friendly country—or, for that matter, any other non-friendly country—but I think the Bush administration is making a mistake here.

I have in mind the headline in the Sydney Morning Herald of a few weeks ago, following a statement by President Bush, entitled `Bush: how I'll rule the world'. I say to the Bush administration that it will do you well to think a little bit more before acting in this fashion. No previous American administration has acted in this way. Diplomacy has very important norms. I am sure no Australian administration would ever want its diplomats in the United States, in a public fashion like this, to quiz candidates about matters that were of interest to Australia on the eve of an election. I will be looking forward, with candidate Michael Organ, to speaking to the American diplomats tomorrow. It will be a very friendly discussion and I will have some questions to put to them, but I think they should have thought this out. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.