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Thursday, 13 April 2000
Page: 15948

Dr NELSON (2:24 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Minister, recently there have been a number of significant developments in the Asia-Pacific region. Would you inform the House of the government's approach to these developments in the region and are you aware of alternative approaches to this particular issue?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Bradfield for his question. I recognise the great interest that he takes in Australian foreign policy and international issues. He makes a very valuable contribution to the government and to the parliament on those issues. As members know, the government's approach to the region is one of practical engagement. As we have seen in recent times the government has been engaging very successfully in practical ways with our neighbours in ASEAN through the AFTA CER process. We have made good and constructive progress in our dealings with Indonesia in recent times and a significant contribution to helping to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula between North Korea—the Democratic People's Republic of Korea—and South Korea.

I think one of the things this government will be remembered for, too, is the practical role—not just the rhetorical role—we played in bringing to an end civil war and conflict in Bougainville and in East Timor. Now, over the last few days, we have been playing a particularly active role in trying to assist the Solomon Islands government in bringing to an end the tension—indeed one could go so far as to say that the conflict—that currently exists in the Solomon Islands. I would just like to take this moment to acknowledge that there has been very close cooperation on this matter with the New Zealand government and my New Zealand counterpart Phil Goff. I must say that the New Zealand government has been extraordinarily cooperative and a very warm and close partner as we have worked through this issue of the Solomon Islands.

The honourable member asked whether there was any alternative approach to this. I can say to the House that, like many members, I read with some interest an article in the Bulletin this week that included an interview with the Leader of the Opposition. As usual, little was devoted to the issue of foreign policy. However, on foreign policy the Leader of the Opposition claimed that if he were the Prime Minister he would somehow be more active. But of course we never hear how. He just says, `I would be more active' and then moves on to the next round of attacks on the government. We never know. I suppose the Leader of the Opposition himself would not have read that article because he has made it clear that he does not like to read articles about himself in case he might be hurt by the criticisms. I would have thought if ever there was an example of somebody lacking ticker that was as good an example as you would ever find.

Despite the fact that the Leader of the Opposition says he would be more active, it has to be said that within Australia, outside of the parliament, we find no record of him making any speech on foreign policy at all in 17 months. For a man who wishes to be active in this field, he has 17 barren months behind him. As for the member for Kingsford-Smith, it is interesting to record how often he asks questions on these issues that he says he is so interested in and that we should be more active on. Over the last 141 days the member for Kingsford-Smith has failed to ask a single question on the great issues of Australia's engagement with our region and the world. This has been an extraordinarily exciting and interesting period in international history, but for 141 days he has not thought it worth while asking a question. Of course you do not get paid for asking questions, so that is perhaps why he does not bother. The only person on the Labor side who talks about foreign policy is the former leader Paul Keating. This is the man, the House will remember, who said that if he had remained Prime Minister and if all of them had remained in government, there never would have been an Asian economic crisis. If the Leader of the Opposition had still been Deputy Prime Minister, Asia would have been spared its economic crisis. Of course Mr Keating's attack on the government over East Timor is not repudiated by the Leader of the Opposition, who obviously, by his silence, associates himself with Mr Keating and with Mr Keating's low-grade views on high-grade policy.