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Tuesday, 19 March 1985
Page: 487

Mr BEAZLEY (Minister for Defence)(4.36) —The honourable member for Goldstein (Mr Macphee) spoke as though this House had not been treated to one of the most detailed and extensive justifications of an absolutely essential initiative by the present Government. He ignored every point that was made and, particularly, he ignored the detailed comments of the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) setting the record straight on precisely the attitudes of our friends in the Association of South East Asian Nations, the activities he pursued in Indo-China and the extent to which they found useful the product of the visits and conversations he undertook. That was all studiously ignored and set to one side. The honourable member for Goldstein relied for his case totally on demonstrably erroneous misinterpretations in the media of statements made by the Foreign Minister during his visit. That is a pity, because it effectively provided the Government with no real opportunity to debate. There has been no real sense on the other side as to what policy on Indo-China or what South East Asian policy should be pursued by us. All we had from the other side was a type of 1960s speech, a farrago of prejudice and vaguely expressed concern without any disciplined framework.

In the contribution of the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) at the start of the censure debate-when sufficient numbers of members were awake to listen to him-one discerned an accusation on his part that the present Government had no conceptual framework for its relationships either with South East Asia or with New Zealand and the United States of America. The Leader of the Opposition having made that accusation, which I regard as very serious, the House waited in vain for a statement by the Opposition on its conceptual framework for Australia's foreign policy relationships. We waited for a statement from the Opposition on relations with New Zealand. Where was the Opposition's suggestion for a compromise? The Opposition may actually have a few serious suggestions to which the Government might be prepared to listen. However, Government members have waited through several hours of speeches, and no such suggestions have been put forward. Where was the alternative framework for our foreign policy toward New Zealand and the crisis which has emerged in relationships between New Zealand and the United States? None was put. The Government waited for an Opposition view on ANZUS which would provide us with some sort of analysis from the other side-not just assertions-of where the Australian and American relationship, because of events in New Zealand, is supposed to have collapsed or been diminished. Again, absolutely none was put by the other side. Government members waited for a conceptual framework for our policy towards Vietnam or ASEAN and the relationships between Vietnam and the ASEAN states. We also waited for a conceptual framework for South East Asian policy from the Opposition. Again, none was put. As I said, the Opposition has some time in which to put forward those views. We wait for the Opposition's views on arms control and disarmament, since it sits there so cheerfully in the middle of its censure motion. On this matter that we are supposed to be censured on there has been not one sentence in the hours of presentation of argument on what the Opposition believed to be some sort of foreign policy perspective, on one of the four or five points in its motion of censure. It ought not to be surprising that we do not find any framework of analysis or foreign policy on the part of honourable members opposite, because when they were in government they had none and while they have been in Opposition they have had none.

Let us get into the bowl of spaghetti that the Liberals call foreign policy and see whether we can find any method at all in the absurdities that they have put forward here. Let us look first at the Australia-New Zealand-United States relationship and at the Opposition's performance in the current situation, and in years past. Insofar as we can discern any sort of direction from the Opposition on where it thinks this Government ought to be going, it made a suggestion last year shortly prior to the election campaign that what we needed to do was to lay it on the line to the New Zealanders and to boot them out and say: 'If there is no agreement, we will have a bilateral treaty with the United States in three months'. The Opposition even set a time limit on it. We even had an ultimatum presented from the Opposition benches on what we ought to do about New Zealand.

A couple of weeks ago in this place when the Opposition was going through one of its little foreign policy exercises we had a wringing of hands and a mewling and pulling from the Leader of the Opposition, who said: 'Why is this Government not going out to find a compromise? We have this enormous crisis on our hands. Where is the compromise position that this Government could reach? Why is it not using its good offices with New Zealand to try to make it change its mind?'. On that point we have had complete confusion from the Opposition and there has been no essential criticism from the Opposition regarding the basis of our policy and our acceptance of the situation in which we find ourselves. We wish to make absolutely certain that three things occur: Firstly, that the relationship between us and the United States remains unimpaired; secondly, that a bilateral relationship with New Zealand continues to be a possibility and continues to be in operation; and, thirdly, that we are positioned so that at some point, when there are possibilities for some movement back to an operational trilateral relationship, we will be in a situation in which the other two parties will feel comfortable in coming with us into that relationship.

The Opposition has made an additional suggestion as it has gone down the line, and I referred to it earlier; that is, the idea that we ought to negotiate a bilateral treaty. I think it is important to dwell on that point because it was made at least in the few months prior to the previous election. It was suggested that after delivering an ultimatum we ought to proceed to position ourselves to be ready to negotiate such a treaty. This has never been explained by the honourable members opposite. I suppose if one is trying to look around for a framework or some sort of sense in their foreign policy and if one is approaching the issue, as I do, with the best will in the world, there may be something to what they are up to and there may be some method in their madness. So I will approach things from the Opposition's point of view.

I ask honourable members to remember all the things that the Opposition said to us about the horrors of the uncertainties that have been created and the terrors that we all now confront as a result of the events which have occurred. I cannot think of anything more destabilising for this region and for our relationships with any country in this region than a reversal on this issue by this Government or a contradiction by this Government of the assurances given by the President of the United States and others in the United States Administration that they are perfectly happy with the arrangements in place with Australia under the ANZUS Treaty, even in the present circumstances. If we were to turn away from the present situation we would have to try to go through the rigmarole of negotiating another treaty with the United States and go through all the problems that that involves such as the endless congressional hearings, with all the possibilities for doubts that they raise as to whether or not this or that guarantee really applies in this or that circumstance. This is the sort of conception and framework with which the Opposition has presented us.

There is no doubt at all that our neighbours in South East Asia and the South Pacific have been very pleased to see a strong relationship between Australia and the United States. That is something which they have used in diplomatic circles in the past. They have considered it as being important to them. What has been suggested by the Opposition, insofar as there is any method at all to its madness, is that we ought not accept at face value the statements of the President of the United States, the Secretary of the State of the United States and the United States officials associated with regional desks, we ought to jettison all those statements, forget about them and turn everything over and set up some form of bilateral treaty.

So there has been no method and no sensible argument in the position that the Opposition has put forward. That is not surprising because honourable members opposite have never had any conceptual framework regarding their relationship with the United States under ANZUS. Over the years they have persistently wrapped themselves in a flag of unreasonable expectations and impossible scenarios and they have never sought to offer any sensible justification in this place.

Mr Tuckey —Did you write this yesterday?

Mr BEAZLEY —The honourable member will hear about this quite often because this issue happens to be central to foreign policy debate in this country. It happens to be the central point relating to the failure of successive Tory governments in managing foreign relations in this country. If ever honourable members opposite were to get back on to the Government benches again, which they never will because they have obviously learned nothing, it would be a central point in the failure of their foreign policies in the future. They have wrapped themselves in that flag and created impossible scenarios. They have never stood up to the Australian public and justified in detail the important day to day elements of the relationship between Australia and the United States that constitute the real day to day underpinning of ANZUS. Honourable members opposite have never been prepared to present to the Australian people a solid justification as to why those relationships ought to be maintained. They have shrouded themselves in secrecy. For instance, they have ignored the very substantial contributions made by the joint installations to arms control verification and early warning systems, all of which are essential to the stability of Soviet- American relationships. These were all matters which the Americans were perfectly happy to have publicly discussed, as we found out when we got into office. Honourable members opposite ran away from those issues and in the process betrayed the Australian people's interest in that area.

The only interest honourable member opposite have ever had in the alliance is that interest that has been identified today by the journalist Peter Robinson, namely, an opportunity to play politics on the odd occasion with national security issues. That is not the basis of a conceptual framework for foreign policy; all it is is the basis for ultimate disaster. If honourable members opposite think that these disasters have no impact, the Opposition's policy was a factor-I will get on to this in a minute-in the deaths of a substantial number of young Australians in the course of the Vietnam war.

Now we look for the Opposition's position on Indo-China and South East Asia, and here it has a proven record of failure, a Midas touch of failure. The Opposition has never had a policy on Indo-China which has held up. Its policy towards Indo-China has moved from being based on deceit to being based at least on murderous effect if not intent at several different important points in history. Honourable members opposite have not had a sensible policy on Indo-China since Casey gave them one in 1954. This was a policy which they ran away from as soon as the decade of the 1950s was over and Casey was out of the way. Their policy in that area has been a failure. Unfortunately, they have never had to pay a proper political price in this country for the destruction of the lives of hundreds of young Australians which occurred when that policy was pursued. After the disaster of the Opposition's Vietnam policy, we had its policy on the Pol Pot regime. It is true that the Whitlam Government was an early recogniser of the Pol Pot regime.

Mr Howard —Early? You raced there with indecent haste.

Mr BEAZLEY —I am glad that we have this moral indignation from the Deputy Leader of the Opposition because he was a member of the Cabinet from which his current leader felt it necessary to resign when he found himself, in attempting to pull out of recognition of Pol Pot, stymied by the attitude of his leadership. I will get on to what must have been the attitude of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition at that time, if that is the way he wishes me to go. When it became evident that Pol Pot was pursuing unprecedently murderous policies in Kampuchea, was any effort made by honourable members opposite to deal with this problem? Was there any sense of and need for intervention of a diplomatic nature to attempt to overcome that problem? There was nothing. A wringing and a washing of hands was all that took place, and they clung to Pol Pot like a limpet when Pol Pot was finally thrown out. The circumstances of Pol Pot being thrown out have created a different political problem with which we now have to deal; there is no question about that. But they left our policy morally deprived for years by continuing official recognition of Pol Pot well beyond the point when he was removed from office and well beyond the point when his murderous policies were thoroughly understood by the Australian people and members of this Parliament.

I suggest to honourable members opposite that, if they wish to see how at least one of their Ministers at that point felt about all that, they look at the resignation speech of the Leader of the Opposition when he left the office of Foreign Minister, because there was a policy which simply would not stand up and which was morally reprehensible. It is understandable that honourable members opposite would cling to that policy, because that was true to their historical record. This Opposition when in government was always prepared to cling to failure, to attach itself to failure, rather than confront a serious intellectual difficulty in overcoming and thinking itself through the crisis to a new policy position. It has never been able to handle the decisions taken by the United States of America which quite critically altered the strategic environment of South East Asia and the South Pacific after the enunciation of the Guam doctrine by Nixon, which has since been consistently reaffirmed. The Opposition when in government could never comprehend the change in American policy towards China or any of the complexities of the situation in Indo-China.

It has to be said, as was said by the Foreign Minister, that if we decide to pursue a policy that is based on something other than sitting down, waiting for somebody to tell us what his views are then clapping our hands, we will involve ourselves, at least at the diplomatic level, if not at the military level, in some degree of risk. We may go down a course which may not have the effect we intend. Even if we go down the correct course our friends, or enemies for that matter, may not necessarily understand us at every point or, even if they understand us, will not necessarily accept what we are doing. That happens to be the fate of any power which would wish to exercise any degree of responsibility in the region. That is the fate which we happily accept for ourselves in South East Asia. We believe that there are important issues at stake in that area.

The Leader of the National Party of Australia (Mr Sinclair) told us correctly that there has been a Soviet buildup in South Vietnam. He said to us correctly that this is a matter about which an Australian government ought to have cause for concern. He had absolutely nothing to say about how we ought to handle that problem diplomatically, about what we ought to be doing in regard to the Vietnamese in Kampuchea in resolving that problem which creates an element of instability and concern in our region. He put forward no proposals at all. One of the bases of the policy that we are pursuing in South East Asia is that we wish to see it free of the insecurities that are created by excessive involvement of powers outside that region. We wish to see a South East Asia with a diplomatic arrangement under which it is possible for other South East Asian nations to put to the Vietnamese points on which they are in disagreement-for example, the proposition that the Soviet Union ought to be brought heavily into the region's military and political affairs. Our predecessors were never in a position to make that point to the Vietnamese because they had no moral authority to do so. We, on the other hand, do find ourselves in that position. We and, quite clearly, a number of ASEAN powers wish to see a situation in which those points can be made, heard, understood and acted upon. That is at least a strategy for dealing with the problem.

Nothing came forward from the Opposition to deal with that problem-no sensitivity to those issues and no competence in any proposals were put forward for dealing with that level of problem. All we get is this mindless ratbaggery from the Opposition every time there is a serious foreign policy debate in this House. There is no system at all to the thought of members of the Opposition, so we get this sort of farrago of horror stories with no means of dealing with them and no diplomatic strategy.

This Opposition has absolutely no right to move a motion of censure of this Government about these issues. It has no right in terms of its record and its current policy and it has no justification in terms of the policies that are being pursued by this Government as far as the central elements of our national security and our relationship with the United States are concerned. From both our point of view and that of the relevant United States officials, that relationship remains unimpaired. It has been well protected by this Government. It is this Government which has pursued a consistent policy on South East Asia; it is this Government which has a concept of a regional arrangement which will ensure our national security and economic interests in the future. We will pursue that policy irrespective of the irrelevant criticisms being made of us by Opposition members from time to time. Those criticisms are badly motivated and irrationally based.