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Wednesday, 27 May 1987
Page: 3412

Mr HAYDEN (Minister for Foreign Affairs)(3.08) —To say that I am perplexed would be the understatement of the year. We were, I understood from the proposal before the House, to talk about what had happened in Fiji and its implications for Australia. We did not hear the word `democracy'. There was not one reference to the constitution and no comment about the rule of law or basic rights. There was no condemnation of the coup. There was no evidence of an understanding of the delicate structure that is developing in our region with the recently independent island states of the South Pacific. We heard none of that.

I put one simple question to the right honourable member for New England (Mr Sinclair), the leader of the rump part of the National Party of Australia-or whatever part it is, after that frail old septuagenarian from Queensland tore it apart and left its gizzard staked on the fence. The question I put, very simply, to the right honourable member for New England is this: Does he or does he not condemn the coup? Whatever it is that he stands for, why did he not condemn the coup? In 15 minutes of the right honourable member's speech there was not one reference to all of these matters. John Halfpenny evoked more comment than the rights of people, democratic processes and our concern about constitutional proprieties in Fiji from the right honourable member for New England. He even resorted to quoting Michael Barnard as some sort of authority. That is like quoting Lenin on democracy or Bluebeard on child care.

I must say that as I listened to his speech it sounded like a very thinly veiled understanding of Rabuka's coup, and that is the way it will be interpreted in parts of Fiji, to the joy of some and to the great dismay of others, and elsewhere in the region, to the total confusion of those people. The right honourable member well knows that this weekend the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) and I are going to Apia for the South Pacific Forum conference.

Mr Tim Fischer —Still going?

Mr HAYDEN —Yes. What sort of constructive contribution does the right honourable member think he has made to the very important and delicate negotiations that both the Prime Minister and I will have to undertake there, in particular in the corridor conversations, the discussions which are extremely important and likely to be most productive, if anything is going to be productive, because they are not taking place in public? If his comments are resorted to and are drawn upon as some evidence of the evident division in Australian society on this matter, our jobs will be made immeasurably more difficult.

A good part of the right honourable member's speech was devoted to attacking the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the current embargoes against exports to Fiji. I want to say only this: There is contact between the ACTU and the trade union movement in Fiji. I sincerely trust that, as a result of that contact, within the next day or two this matter will be resolved. It is, as the right honourable member rightly said, a problem but on the other hand it is an initiative which is understood by many people in this community and applauded by them, as it is applauded and encouraged by many people in Fiji. It has its inherent problems. It will affect exports to Fiji. Fiji can easily turn to other sources very quickly and obtain the sort of food supplies it needs. The consequence for us would of course be lost markets. I recognise that, but that having been said, the problem is not advanced one iota by his engaging in the sort of blatherskiting abuse of the trade union movement in what is a very difficult and delicate situation and when efforts are being made to try to sort it out satisfactorily. We do not need any lectures from the right honourable member on our so-called lack of ability to tell the trade unions where to get off, to use his terminology. The fact is that on comparative records we have a far superior record in containing industrial disputation than any previous government in something like the last 30 years-or more, if one makes some sort of allowance for the growth in the work force. Days lost through industrial disputes now are lower than they have been for a couple of decades. That means very simply that in comparison the Fraser Government, in which the right honourable member for New England was a senior Minister, was hopeless, it was woebegone, when it came trying to handle industrial disputation in this community.

The right honourable member ranted about defence matters, quite evidently forgetting his own sorry record on defence spending, which was reduced in real terms while he was Minister for Defence. He made silly statements such as: `Australia would be unable to mobilise a combat force against a resisted landing'. He then decried our amphibious capability and made a number of associated condemnatory comments. I am more interested in the underlying unstated assumptions behind this sort of commentary by the honourable member. He clearly thinks that we should go off on a frolic, some sort of adventure, with military forces to land in Fiji or in some other part of the South Pacific if the whim takes us. That is some variation of the Monroe Doctrine of the turn of the century. I have never heard anything so ridiculous in all my life. This gives us the whole quality of his approach to this very difficult and very delicate issue.

I am not going to waste time going into the detail of how our projection and deployment capabilities have been vastly improved since the honourable member for Swan (Mr Beazley) became the Minister for Defence. I think I can say fairly confidently that he is the most effective Defence Minister that this country has seen. His speech on defence initiatives in the South Pacific in this Parliament on 20 February 1987 set out all of those relevant details. But there we have it from the right honourable member for New England. Clearly running through everything that he said was sympathy for the people responsible for the coup, a reckless indifference for our obligations towards things such as basic rights, the Constitution, the rule of law and people's right to participate in the situation in Fiji. John Halfpenny was condemned, not once, but several times, but there was not one word of even mild criticism for the people responsible for the coup in Fiji. I ask the right honourable member for New England where he stands on that issue and what it is that he stands for fundamentally when these issues of principle come forward.

This is a very complex situation. It has fairly complex roots. It is more than a matter of some people being discontented with an election result and wanting to restore the status quo as they knew it. It has its roots in what might be called communalism. It indicates that countries such as Fiji are now developing political responses to particular events as they unfold, responses which perhaps are going to cause problems and challenges in the region. But they will call for understanding and not for the ranting nonsense which we have just heard. I would suggest that they call for much more bipartisanship than we have seen, because we have a vast national interest in this. There are not many points to be scored in the way in which the right honourable member for New England sought to do so, either in our region or domestically, by trying to create unnecessary divisions in this country and by indicating a sympathy for what is a completely unconstitutional, unlawful and treasonable act. The right honourable member should have addressed himself to some of those matters.

He should try to understand that the South Pacific is not the place it was in the 1960s or the 1970s. The political and social systems there are evolving, and in some cases quite quickly. Events in Fiji have shown that. Some developments in Vanuatu have also indicated that. The implications of some of these things reaching elsewhere show that there is fragility and also a big challenge ahead of us in handling these matters. The coup in Fiji needs to be seen in the context of much more rapidly evolving patterns of political development in the South Pacific. Since the beginning of decolonisation in the region in 1970 there has been increased complexity in the politics of the region, and this is a fact which we have to face. It is a fact which the right honourable member for New England evaded. He had a splendid opportunity to address it-he evaded it. We will have to devote greater energy and resources to this sort of thing.

An obvious implication of the coup for Australia and the region is the precedental impact of the first military coup in the region. That is another reason why the right honourable member should not have been undertaking the sort of blatherskiting and bluffing that he went on with, which has no relevance to the real issue-in case it incites people, in case it is misunderstood and in case it leaves the impression that there is a solid core of support for the sort of activity that we have recently seen. It is for this reason, among others, that we have sought to put down a hard marker on our responses on this occasion. I draw the right honourable member's attention to several pages of the statement of the Prime Minister of 21 May 1987, released to the media and publicly, which indicate the responses we have taken and show the things that we have available to us if we need to use them.

The issue of democratic principle is fundamental to the pursuit of our interests in this region. That is what the right honourable member for New England should have riveted our attention on in his debate. While the details of a solution to the present problems in Fiji are for the people of Fiji to resolve, we must do what we can to ensure that the principle of democracy is respected and that proper processes are observed. The communal dimension of the problems in Fiji has potentially difficult implications for Australia-not helped by the simplified non- sense from this populist who has come in from being stripped bare of any credibility within the National Party. What has to be recognised is that there is a fundamental social problem in addition to a constitutional crisis. If things do not resolve themselves-and more likely so if they were to deteriorate-we may face a very significant immigration pressure. A clown from the corner populated by the Country Party, and the Country Party members can always be recognised because they keep their shoes off in the House so that they can count above ten--

Mr Ian Cameron —I raise a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I ask the Minister to refer to us as the National Party and not as the Country Party.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Leo McLeay) -Order! There is no point of order.

Mr HAYDEN —With respect, Mr Deputy Speaker, I think it is a fair enough point. I will refer to them as the clowns of the National Party.

Mr McGauran —You've been--

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! I warn the honourable member for Gippsland.

Mr HAYDEN —Honourable members should stop to think of the potential seriousness of substantial immigration pressures. If foolish statements such as those we have heard from the right honourable member for New England were to inflame people, if they were to be taken seriously, and if he were thought to be the leader of a substantial movement in this country implying sympathy for the coup leaders, he could easily provoke further action or a worsening of the situation. Then this problem to which I am referring could really be with us.

The coup itself, and our response to it, will have an impact on our wider regional relationships. That is particularly so because of Fiji's focal position in the South Pacific and because of its more mature development as a consequence of its earlier experiences with colonialism. Our policy responses need to entail careful and fine judgment between the exercise of our influence and our need in that exercise not to impair our longer term influence and credibility. On the one hand, we need to recall that measures taken, for example, in the trade and aid areas can deliver hammer blows. On the other hand, we need to judge carefully, for example, the potential humanitarian impact of what we do. We also need to bear in mind that there is a longer term political consideration in all of these unfolding events-a longer term political consideration which relates to our national interest, our influence in the region, and our desire to restore stability and proper processes throughout that region.

These judgments need to be made very carefully, not just by the Government but by others in the Australian community; for example, the trade union movement. The right honourable member for New England is right in this respect but he was wrong in the way in which he presented his views. It also needs to be recognised by the Australian media. Policy responses need, because of the immediacy of the problem, to be more than usually finely judged. And the present picture we see is not complete; it is unfolding. Day by day as I watch the cable traffic I find a new element developing in the situation in Fiji. Our relations with Fiji and, to some degree, with the Pacific as a whole will now always be more complex than they have been in the past. That is a trend which will continue. It is a trend with which the government of the day will have to grapple. It is a challenge which is not addressed or resolved by the extraordinary behaviour of the right honourable member for New England.