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Tuesday, 19 March 1985
Page: 494


Mr BILNEY(5.16) —It is a pleasure to follow the honourable member for Bennelong (Mr Howard), the former Treasurer, in this debate because it seems that having demonstrated during his period in office and subsequently his inability to master the complexities of the economy, and his failure to deal with those complexities successfully, he has now turned his attention to foreign policy. He has shown the same lack of comprehension of the complexities of foreign policy as he did of the economy. I notice that Michelle Grattan, writing in the Age yesterday, noted this tendency of the honourable member for Bennelong. She said:

Mr Howard is determined to keep a high public profile. This can touch sensitivities other than Mr Peacock's. His strong pro-'Star Wars' line annoyed Foreign Affairs' spokesman Ian Macphee . . .

One can see why. We have heard from the Opposition in this debate a foreign policy stance which is without facts, without principles, totally lacking in a sense of history, without coherence, and ultimately without relevance to the kinds of policies which we should be following. As a critique of the Government's policy it falls flat on its face.

Several legs of the Opposition's argument were moved in the censure motion. The first deals with ANZUS. That has been very comprehensively covered by those who have preceded me in this debate, but I want to say one thing in addition; that is, the coalition when in government and in opposition, has always regarded ANZUS as its private property. It greatly resents the fact that a Labor Prime Minister, John Curtin, first made the opening to the United States of America which presaged the negotiation of the ANZUS Treaty. The Opposition resents the fact that the Australian relationship with the United States is closer and more healthy than it ever has been. It resents the fact that the Australian Labor Party, in government and out of it, has been a strong supporter of the ANZUS relationship. The Opposition resents the fact that personal relationships between our leaders-the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Hayden) and their United States counterparts-are close and cordial. The Opposition resents the fact that progress has been made in that relationship to the extent that it now serves Australian interests more openly than it did during the fawning and cringing that the Opposition went in for when it was in government. The Opposition resents the fact Australia's relations with the United States have not been destroyed. One can see that it is hankering after a situation in which Australia's relationships with the United States fall to the ground so that it can do what it has always done with the ANZUS relationship, and that is to use it to score cheap political tricks within Australia. The Opposition has not succeeded and it will not succeed. Judging by the attempt it has made today, it will do itself more damage in the process of attempting to discredit that relationship than it will if it simply shuts up about it.

The second leg in the Opposition's censure motion deals with the so-called alienation of the Association of South East Asian Nations. We have been through that before. The Opposition has never understood the situation in South East Asia, much less in Indo-China itself. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) spoke of a 'principled search for peace in Indo-China'. The words came out of his mouth like manure. The only principles which the Opposition ever brought to bear on the situation in Indo-China were the principles that grew out of the barrel of a gun, fertilised as it were those with agent orange. It is no wonder that the result is an obscenity. What was the principle behind the sending of conscripts to Vietnam? What was the principle that led to over 400 young Australians dying in that country?

We have heard talk of false intelligence. In Vietnam, Australia relied on intelligence which has now been shown in the United States to have been false. That intelligence underestimated the strength of the popular resistance to the then puppet governments of Vietnam. We went along with this in a knowing and conniving way. What principles were there? The Opposition has always been blinkered in the way in which it looks at events in South East Asia principally because it has never understood the desire for independence on the part of all countries in South East Asia. One contrasts that with the attitude of the Australian Labor Party, which has always adopted a principled stand towards the situation in Indo-China. In the mid-1960s many young Australians took to the streets to demonstrate against the policies of the then Government. What is more, when we got into government following an election campaign in which Vietnam was a major issue, we put those principles into effect. We abolished conscription very quickly. We withdrew from Vietnam very quickly. Indeed, we led the way for the Americans who by that stage were as anxious to get out as everybody else was.


Mr Young —We let the conscientious objectors out of gaol.


Mr BILNEY —As the Minister reminds me, we let the conscientious objectors out of gaol. Now, carrying forward those principles, we are engaged in a search for a lasting settlement in Vietnam. That search for a settlement in Vietnam has prompted the nonsense which the Opposition has brought forward in this debate which it characterises as the 'alienation of the ASEAN nations'.

I would like to go through the chronology briefly simply to show the seriousness of the efforts that the Foreign Minister has made following the initiative by the Prime Minister to find some lasting settlement in Indo-China. In May 1983, not long after we came to office, Son Sann visited Australia as a guest of the Australian Government. At that time Son Sann said:

I am grateful to the Labor Government of Prime Minister Robert Hawke for the recent proposal made by Foreign Minister Bill Hayden on the search for a solution to the problems of the Cambodian refugees along the Khmer-Thai border, and for a political solution to the Cambodian problem. Australia's care and concern for the plight of our people and our country are highly appreciated, and we view Australia's proposal as generous and sincere.

In July and August of 1983 Mr Hayden went to all the ASEAN countries, to Laos and to Vietnam and put forward the six points for settlement which have been referred to. At that time Foreign Minister Siddhi of Thailand said:

We have no reservations as for Mr Hayden's trip to Hanoi . . . If he can probe further and get more information for us, it would be very useful for our search for peace and a political solution to Kampuchea. So in that case I will say that Mr Hayden has a role to play for us, we have no reservation for his trip at all.

That endorsed the role that we were playing in attempting to bring the parties together and to arrive at a settlement.

In August the Minister for Foreign Affairs went to China. Chinese Premier Zhao, in speaking about our initiative, said:

I hope the Lord will bless you and that you can persuade Vietnam to change its mind and to change its policy . . . If you succeed then you have actually performed a meritorious service.

I now turn to the ANZUS communique of 1983. ANZUS is the body in respect of which the Opposition urges courses on us that we are not prepared to follow. The communique stated:

The Council Members reaffirmed their conviction that the conflict in Kampuchea should be settled by peaceful means. They support diplomatic efforts which would lead to a comprehensive political solution to the Kampuchean problem. The Council welcomed the efforts of Australian Foreign Minister Hayden to establish common ground in the search for a negotiated settlement.

Does that sound as though we are offside with ANZUS? As is well remembered, in October-November of 1983 we refused to co-sponsor the ASEAN resolution on Kampuchea. That led to a reactive cat-amongst-the-pigeons flurry by the Opposition at which it is so good. The Opposition is wonderful at reacting to situations but it is not particularly good at proposing solutions that are based on any sort of sense of history or understanding of the problems. In November 1983 the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister went to Bangkok where they explained our policy on not co-sponsoring the ASEAN resolution and their efforts in the search for peace in Indo-China were further endorsed.

In December 1983 Mr Hayden put down in this Parliament what I think is still the best statement of our policy on Indo-China and the complexities of that region. That statement caught the then Opposition spokeman on foreign affairs pretty well on the hop. I will simply quote two extracts from that statement which I think are extremely important to any understanding of this problem. The first is the conclusion of the speech which sets out what we are about. The speech states:

This Government has sought to pull together these thoughts and the many other threads into a consistent policy; not one that seeks spectacular or foolhardy results but one that recognises that much patience is required. The Government is aware of the need for a great deal of careful talking, and is prepared to face the likelihood of many discouragements and ultimately, perhaps, the prospect of a continued bleak stalemate. We do, however, have an obligation to try and, in the process, to stake some of our national imagination on the development of an intelligent and broad perspective regarding the future of South East Asia.

That is what we are about. We are about a very difficult task in South East Asia. We have taken on what is a very hard row to hoe. Is the Opposition saying that we should not take that on? Is the Oppositions saying that the Australian people do not support the negotiation of a settlement in Indo-China that will remove this festering sore from our doorstep? Is the Opposition saying that 'jaw-jaw' is not better than 'war-war', which is the only solution it knows and which it would have us go back to again?


Mr Hodgman —No, we are condemning your appeasement of Vietnam, and that is what it is.


Mr BILNEY —The honourable member for Denison interjects that the Opposition is condemning appeasement. If he cannot tell the difference between appeasement and the kind of constructive patient policy that we are following in South East Asia, I pity him. I would like to say that members of the Opposition, in their more thinking moments, endorse what we are doing in Indo-China. I recall that in 1980 the present Leader of the Opposition, when Foreign Minister, spoke in the General Assembly of the United Nations. How does this sound for appeasement? He said:

A peaceful and secure South East Asia cannot be achieved until a political settlement has been reached in Kampuchea which is acceptable to all parties concerned and which gives full opportunity to the Kampuchean people to determine their own style of government and way of life.

Is the honourable member for Denison ready for the next part of the speech? He said:

We accept that Vietnam has legitimate interests to safeguard in relation to Kampuchea. What we cannot accept is that Vietnam and its allies should be able to go on refusing to discuss seriously the fundamental questions of the occupation of Kampuchea by foreign troops and the legitimacy of the regime in Phnom Penh.

That is precisely the effort on which we are engaged. We are trying to bring about that serious discussion of the fundamental question of the occupation of Kampuchea by foreign troops. We are seriously trying to bring about a resolution of the regime in Phnom Penh.

So it simply does not good to criticise the hiccups because there is just not going to be this hiccup; there are going to be more hiccups in the course of this long negotiation. This Government remains determined to continue the negotiation and, if possible, to reach a successful conclusion. If it does it will have achieved a wonderful thing for this part of the world. Such a solution is utterly beyond the capacity of the Opposition to imagine, let alone to achieve.

The third leg of the Opposition's criticism and censure of the Government-and one has to laugh-is 'The weakening of Australia's contribution to international peace and disarmament'. I can think of no government which has done more to contribute towards peace and disarmament than the Australian Government that came to power in 1983. I will just briefly run through some of the things which I believe are extremely important in this regard. In the two years that we have been in office the Labor Government has taken the initiative in creating a nuclear free zone in the South Pacific. That initiative was attacked by the honourable member for Bennelong, who I now see has left the House, on the basis that it was somehow a fraud or that either it did not go far enough or it went too far. He seemed to base that view on the fact that there should be some opposition to Soviet stationing of tactical or strategic weapons in that area. I think that simply misconceives the situation. The Americans are not interested in that particular part of it.

Secondly, we have kept alive the efforts, which were begun, I remind the House, by Mr Whitlam, to create a zone of peace in the Indian Ocean. Thirdly, we have taken a very high profile in attempting to persuade the super-powers to arrive at a comprehensive nuclear test ban, one of this Government's priority objectives. We have gone further than any previous Australian Government in bringing about some progress in that regard. It is a testimony to the strenuousness of our efforts that very recently in Geneva the Soviet Union and the United States began to talk. Whilst it would be claiming too much to say that our efforts were crucial in that regard they have nevertheless been added to those of countries such as Mexico and Sweden which have played a leading role in this effort. Now those talks have begun. I believe that all Australians, with the possible exception of some of the more gung ho people on the Opposition side, will welcome that development and wish that those talks succeed.

As a further initiative we have appointed an Ambassador for Disarmament. I noticed that he was in the House earlier this afternoon. His efforts have constituted the sharp end, as it were, of negotiations on disarmament matters. One further initiative-it is impossible to imagine that the Opposition would ever have done this-has been to work very hard for the so-called nuclear freeze resolution in the United Nations. At the thirty-ninth General Assembly for the first time Australia achieved a record vote for any disarmament resolution when 124 nations voted in favour of the nuclear freeze resolution which we co-sponsored. No one voted against it, although there were 24 abstentions. It was an important landmark on the road towards nuclear disarmament. We actively supported and voted for a nuclear freeze and for only the second time the United States refrained from active opposition. That was a very substantial change. The key part of that resolution called for the Conference on Disarmament at Geneva to resume its examination of issues relating to the negotiation of a treaty on the subject of a comprehensive test ban. Those discussions are now proceeding.

I think it is clear that the Australian Government's record on peace and disarmament is such as to make ludicrous the Opposition criticism that we have weakened the Australian effort in terms of peace and disarmament. In fact, we have strengthened it. It is also necessary to note that we have continued to contribute to the various peacekeeping forces such as the United Nations military observer group in India and Pakistan. Seven Australians serve on that and have served since 1949. That is something we have carried on. That is also the case with the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus and the United Nations Truce Supervisory Organisation in Israel.

All in all I think it is absolutely amazing that the Opposition can dream of criticising the foreign policies of this Government. Members of the Opposition have always reacted to developments. They have never attempted to use Australia's voice to influence those developments. They have always relied on the advice of great and powerful friends and followed their policies. They have never spoken up for an independent Australian stance even in our own region. They have always sought to pursue international relations by means with which Bismarck would have been familiar. They have never sought to follow the principles enunciated by Dr Evatt of negotiation and recognition of every country's independence and desire for peace.

Question put:

That the motion (Mr Peacock's) be agreed to.