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Thursday, 6 April 2000
Page: 15451

Mrs GASH (3:09 PM) —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister inform the House of the government's response to the election yesterday of a new Japanese Prime Minister?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for Gilmore for her question. On behalf of the government and, I know, the people of Australia, I would like to offer our congratulations to Mr Yoshiro Mori, the new Prime Minister of Japan. I know that all of us will regret the circumstances in which it has become necessary for Japan's ruling LDP to choose a new leader and therefore, by operation of the Japanese political system, a new Prime Minister. I know Mr Mori, having met him during my visits to Japan. I know that all Australians concerned about our relationship with that very important country will wish Mr Obuchi, the former Prime Minister, the very best in his difficult days with his very severe illness.

The relationship between Australia and Japan is a very important one. Japan for a very long period of time has been Australia's best customer, and the manner in which, starting with the trade agreement negotiated by the then Deputy Prime Minister John McEwen in 1957, the economic relationship between our two countries has been developed over the years reflects very great credit on successive leaders of both of the countries. I had the good fortune to visit Japan last year, and I look forward to meeting Mr Mori in his new capacity—I have met him in his earlier positions—at least at the APEC leaders meeting in Brunei later this year and perhaps earlier. I know that he assumes the leadership of Japan with the goodwill of many countries including Australia. It is a particularly important relationship for this country, and I know that he will contribute in a very dedicated way to the bilateral relationship, as have his two predecessors, Mr Hashimoto and Mr Obuchi. Again, I convey on behalf of the people of Australia our concern and thoughts to Mr Obuchi and to his family.