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Wednesday, 22 August 1973
Page: 202

Mr PEACOCK (Kooyong) - I seek leave to make a statement.

Mr SPEAKER -Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.

Mr PEACOCK - The Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) has at last made a statement to the Parliament and the Australian people on his recent lengthy overseas visit.

Dr F Cairns - At last?

Mr PEACOCK - It is a reasonable thing to say. It may be that honourable members opposite were not aware of the innermost thoughts which were transmitted through the medium of television the other night. I for one have reason to recollect them. The point is well taken that a statement could have been made (Government supporters interjecting) -

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The Prime Minister was heard in complete silence. I ask honourable members to extend the same courtesy to the honourable member for Kooyong.

Mr PEACOCK - This is a speech of substance, Mr Speaker; so there is obviously a desire to interject. What I meant to convey by using the words 'at last' was that there is a duty, after all, to report to this Parliament immediately thoughts that we used to hear expressed frequently by the Prime Minister when he was Leader of the Opposition. I believe that by appearing on television last Saturday night he transgressed the execution of that duty.

Mr James - He praised you.

Mr PEACOCK - And so he should. I would have put it in different language. I might say that the next time he proposes to do me a favour perhaps he will desist and I will give an undertaking to do the same.

Mr James - He scratched your back well the other night.

Mr PEACOCK - It was a beautiful kiss of death. As is to be expected of a statement of this nature, it highlights what the Prime Minister sees as the achievements of his travels. Even if these highlights were to be accepted, they should be balanced with the many shortcomings and debits which resulted from his travels and, more to the point, from his statements. The Prime Minister has asserted before that he will show the world that Australia is pursuing a more independent foreign policy. His view seems to be that our independence is to be asserted by abrasive and undiplomatic behaviour. Let us take the last port of call other than Honolulu - namely, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference in Ottawa. The frequent arguments between him and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and Mr Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore are well known to the Australian people. I merely mention them. A statement by the New Zealand Prime Minister - not so well known in Australia - which was referred to by Mr Robin Day in a television interview, is similar to the accusations which many Australians are making about our Prime Minister. It was alleged by Mr Day in the interview that Mr Kirk said that the differences between the Labor Government of New Zealand and that of Australia is that 'New Zealand acts and Australia talks'. Do we not know it?

The purpose in Washington, we understand, was to re-establish the friendly relations between Australia and the United States of America. Who fractured the friendly relations in the first place? The Prime Minister and his Ministers. Yet that was the primary purpose of the visit to the United States - to reestablish those relations. It appeared that those relations were re-established. There was some difficulty in negotiating the discussions with the President of the United States of America and the discussions were relatively brief, but they were held. It appeared that all was well. But not only the present President of the United States but also two of his distinguished predecessors - Johnson and Kennedy - were maligned by the Prime Minister in Ottawa only days after the endeavour to re-establish friendly relations had been made in Washington.

Before moving on let me refer to the visit to Mexico, the prime aim of which seemed to be to enlist support for the Australian Government's views, which the Opposition supports, on the French nuclear explosions. It appears that the Prime Minister, in failing to elicit that support, had overlooked the very real ties between Mexico and France. The trade ties between Mexico and France and the extent of French investment in Mexico would have weighed heavily on any Mexican President's mind. The Prime Minister, if he did not overlook it, sought to persuade the Mexican President to a different viewpoint. He failed. We live in closer contact with our fellow man today than at any times in our history. Therefore we must consult more closely, more frequently and in franker and more direct terms than ever before. But there are limits and standards of international behaviour and diplomacy and it is regrettable, to put it mildly, that the Prime Minister in his 8 months as Foreign Minister has failed to show an understanding of proper conduct in international relations. I suggest to him in the strongest possible terms that he appoint as Foreign Minister someone who can give his full-time attention to the ramifications of Australia's foreign policy and not treat it as a part-time occupation. It might be found to be exhilarating, but at the same time it can damage relations between Australia and other countries.

The fundamental fact about foreign policy in the 1970s is that it needs to be conducted in a world where change is occurring rapidly. We are moving towards a new international balance in which the great powers and all countries are seeking a new spirit of detente. In this climate the Prime Minister has made Australia's position equivocal and uncertain. He has shown scant regard for allies and alliances without suggesting constructive alternatives. The confusion within Australia as a result of Labor's patchwork domestic policies has been transferred to the international sphere. The Prime Minister told the Australian people in his international affairs statement in this House in May that this Government had not sought to take Australia in new directions with its foreign policy, yet in an address to the Mexican people he referred to the new direction his policy had taken. This undoubtedly requires explanation. What does the Prime Minister believe? What are we to believe? Again there is uncertainty.

In the United States of America the Prime Minister continued his attack on the South East Asia Treaty Organisation, again without offering constructive alternatives. If he has offered alternative proposals privately he should indicate to the Australian people what those proposals are. The Liberal Party sees the need for adjustment of SEATO to make it more relevant and more effective as an instrument of regional co-operation and so that it will contribute to international stability. The Prime Minister's gratuitous comment that Thailand and the Philippines needed to be nudged to a realistic situation' can only have given offence to those countries. It is not for us to tell them what they ought to think. It is our responsibility to attempt to understand them and to assist where we can. Any advice which we might feel the need to offer should be given in private and in a spirit of friendship and co-operation. Any proposed change in SEATO, for example, should be the subject of consultation with all members of the organisation.

Whilst talking about South East Asia and Asia we might well note that the Prime Minister seeks to assume a leadership role in Asian matters, but Asian leaders are reacting against what they regard as clumsy intrusion. It is one thing to seek to understand the problems and aspirations of our Asian neighbours. It is another thing to try to force our attention upon them. It is also important to mention that last night we heard the Government dishonour its pledges on defence expenditure, a point that seems to be overlooked in some commentaries today. Far from maintaining defence expenditure the Government has provided only 2.8 per cent to 2.9 per cent of gross national product to be spent on defence in the current financial year, compared with the provision of 3.3 per cent last year. Given the rate of inflation which Labor continues to condone and has come to depend upon, the amount provided clearly will be inadequate to enable realistic development of our defence forces. In real terms it amounts to a serious diminution of our defence effort.

Our diplomacy and international reputation will be in question if we do not show others that we are prepared to make a proper effort towards our self defence. I mention this also in the context of withdrawal from the FivePower Agreement and the withdrawal at short notice of an adviser to draw up the program for the SEATO exercises, which run counter to the arrangements between our friends in South East Asia, and with respect to the Five-Power Agreement, with New Zealand and the United Kingdom. These withdrawals run counter to the requests of countries in the region with which we have always had the closest association and with which relations have been impaired as a consequence of the actions of this Government.

Similarly, the Labor Government is committed to a balanced stance on the Middle East dispute. The Prime Minister has publicly endorsed the previous Government's stand of neutrality. Because of the thrust of change that the Government seeks to bring about I ask: Why the interesting approach in the Security Council in June of this year? We are the thrusting middle ranking power referred to by the Prime Minister, a power of some influence in the world today. To use one of the Prime Minister's favourite phrases we are, together with Austria, one of the most respectable countries in terms of the Security Council so far

It is a matter of grave disappointment that we did not try to initiate a new solution fair to both sides in the atmosphere of the discussion within the Security Council. It is as inconsistent as what we find in the Prime Minister's statement and the statement made yesterday in the Senate by the Minister Assisting the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Willesee) on his recent visit to Africa, the region with which the Prime Minister is so concerned in seeking to establish a leading role amongst the countries of the third world. Senator Willesee referred to the present Government's changed policies towards Africa and said that African governments now believe that they can count upon the Australian Government for support. He referred to 'a substantial change of policy' but he has made no effort to indicate what it is.

Have commitments been given to governments in Africa which have led them to believe that they can count on Australia for support? If so, this Parliament and the Australian people ought to be informed. Senator Willesee referred to a substantial change of policy, yet when the Prime Minister was recently in India he stressed that in all his overseas visits - to Britain, Canada, Indonesia and India - he had stressed the continuity of Australia's foreign policy under the present Government. The Prime Minister's statements are contradictory and his Assistant Minister appears to disagree with him. There is a need for a proper explanation of these contradictions. One whirlwind tour by a Minister does not make a policy. Throughout the Prime Minister's handling of the Foreign Affairs portfolio this nation and its friends have witnessed a contrived and distorted appraisal of the achievements of the previous Government. Such distortions are again implicit in this statement. It might well be thought by some that it is fine to be taking new initiatives in the foreign arena, but remember the importance of step by step diplomacy, remember that so called concepts of the multiplier effect also occur in diplomacy.

Look at the steady record of the previous Government. Do not treat it with contempt but regard the changes that occurred and remember the friendly relations which existed between the previous Government and the countries of South-East Asia and do not try and give in future the contrived appraisal such as you have. The present Government could well be proud of the record of association with countries of this region had it continued those associations. It has seen fit to distort the previous Government's attitude. As a consequence of its actions, the present Government has torn asunder those relations between Australia and Singapore, between Australia and Thailand and between Australia and the Philippines. The effect on these is reflected elsewhere.

If we read the new book entitled 'Australian Foreign Policy' which the Prime Minister is to launch and which is edited by Claire Clark who is a member of the Parliamentary Research Staff, we see that it contains a statement made by the Prime Minister earlier this year to the summer school of the Institute of Political Science in Canberra.

Mr Whitlam - I was opening it.

Mr PEACOCK - The Prime Minister made the statement when opening the school. The statement stressed the very real role and key role which ought to exist between Australia and Indonesia. From that-

Mr Hayden - He wrote it himself.

Mr PEACOCK - It is a pity that he did not get someone else to involve themselves in the writing of statements because it is his own statements that have caused so much of the problem.

Mr Whitlam - Are you- asking for it to be incorporated in Hansard?

Mr PEACOCK - No, I do not want it incorporated. I want to remind the Prime Minister of his words. He said: 'The continued development of our relations with Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines is important not only in the wider regional context but in the context of our own relations with Indonesia'. In other words, after following on a discussion on the Association of South-East Asian Nations if you take certain actions with other countries of this region this will flow on to the relations that you have with each country in that region. Any activity with one leads as a consequence to the others. This is the multiplier effect. The

Prime Minister should not think that he can argue with the Prime Minister of Singapore without this having ramifications with our relations with other countries, particularly other countries in the region. I wish for a change that the Prime Minister would stop and be cognizant of the consequences of his actions and his statements and the effect that they have on relations between Australia and the nations within South and South-East Asia in particular.

The relations of the previous Government with the nations of this area were close and they will continue to be when we are returned at the next elections. In future statements it will be my intention, of course, to highlight not only what is wrong with the standing of the present Government in relation to other countries of the world but to indicate what we will be doing when we are returned. At this early stage I have contented myself with I think a valid appraisal of the ramifications of the recent overseas visit of the Prime Minister and compared his record with the record of the previous Government, of which we can be justifiably proud.

Mr SPEAKER -I call the Deputy Leader of the Australian Country Party.

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