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Thursday, 29 March 1973
Page: 875

Mr CROSS (Brisbane) - Mr Deputy Speaker,I hope, having listened to what you have said, that I might be allowed the opportunity of commenting by way of reply on some of the matters introduced by the honourable member for Parramatta (Mr N. H. Bowen), although I do not intend to allow that to take me off the motion for the setting up of the joint committee. I am pleased that the Opposition supports the setting up of the joint committee in the terms that have been submitted by the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam). Members of the Labor Party have been members of what was then the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs for the last 2 Parliaments. I pay a tribute to the Prime Minister for the part he played in bringing the Labor Party to that position. We recognise that the present Opposition when it was in government made certain changes which made this committee more a parliamentary committee and rather less a preserve of the Minister for External Affairs of the day and the Government of the day. What the Labor Party is doing, in accordance with attitudes that have been expressed over a great number of years by the Prime Minister and by other members on this side of the House, is to widen the role of this Committee in order that it might become a more important part of the Parliament.

The significant alteration is to add the word Defence' to the title of the proposed committee so that the joint committee would consider matters of foreign affairs and defence. I do not think that anyone would disagree that these are very closely related subjects and that very often our foreign affairs posture is dictated by defence considerations. Also it follows from this that matters may be referred to the committee by the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) or by resolution of either House of the Parliament and the question of resolution by either House of the Parliament is, as I said earlier, to make this committee a more effective instrument of the Parliament. It was my experience in the 6 years that I was on the previous committee that the committee looked at the matters that came before it impartially and not in any partisan way. That is to say, members of the committee did not go into meetings of the committee with their own political point of view. That is not to say that there have not been some differences of opinion. But, it is to say that inside the committee very often there have been fruitful discussions in which members of various parties have been able to explore one another's point of view.

The significant thing about the total exercise has been that every single member of that committee recognised its importance as an institution of the Parliament and recognised that policy making was the prerogative of the government of the day, but felt too that there was a role for the committee to play within this framework in order that it might not only convey its views to the Minister from time to time under the guidelines then laid down with his approval to the Parliament, but also that it might bring about in both Houses of this Parliament a group of senators and members who were much better informed on foreign affairs matters than they would otherwise have been. The Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs has been a most valuable committee.

The honourable member for Parramatta made some suggestions about the line that Labor Party foreign affairs attitudes were taking. He suggested that we were running in parallel with Peking and Hanoi. He suggested that we had alienated to some extent the goodwill of the United States and that we were moving towards a position in the third world. Of course, without in any way attempting to impair those associations which we have enjoyed in the past with the United States of America, with Commonwealth countries and with other nations in our region, the Labor Government is seeking to explore a wider role in the world, a role in which we would have contact with peoples and nations with which we have not previously had contact. It may well be that the Prime Minister has been enterprising and bold in some of these matters. However, time will judge the significance. I enthusiastically support the initiatives that have been made. But whatever value one places in recent developments in foreign affairs, the fact of the matter is that the committee which will be set up under this resolution is a parliamentary committee which within the guidelines laid down will be able to subject the decisions of the Government and the attitudes of the Government to critical analysis, and I am sure that only good can come out of broadening the committee in this way.

I again congratulate the Prime Minister, who is also the Minister for Foreign Affairs, on the motion which has been brought down and on the fact that the establishment of this committee will mean that we will have a more effective parliamentary committee with a broader charter. I welcome those sections of the motion which refer to the provision of necessary staff, facilities and resources. I trust that in future we can develop this parliamentary committee into being a much more effective instrument of the Parliament than it has been in the past. I support the motion.

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