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Monday, 29 May 1989
Page: 2888


Senator LEWIS —I ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade why the Treasurer is visiting the Soviet Union. Will the Minister provide the Senate with details of the Treasurer's itinerary and estimates of the costs of the trip?


Senator GARETH EVANS —I will take the question on notice.


Senator LEWIS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade is apparently not aware that his Treasurer has gone to the Soviet Union. We are seeking details of the itinerary in the Soviet Union and estimates of the costs. I will now ask specific questions about the trip. Is it a fact that the visit to the Soviet Union was privately organised by the Treasurer's ministerial office and not by any Government department-not even by the Treasury? Can the Minister confirm-I believe it is the Minister's responsibility-that the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade first learned of the Treasurer's Soviet visit from the Australian Embassy in Moscow, which has expressed its frustration and concern about the fact that the itinerary and arrangements were organised without its involvement? Can the Minister also confirm that, besides Moscow and Leningrad, the Treasurer will be visiting a number of other places in the Soviet Union which hold no direct relevance for any Australian Government business at all? Is it a fact that the common link between the Treasurer's various ports of call in the Soviet Union is their significance as trading centres for Empire period antiques?


Senator GARETH EVANS —The reason I chose to take the question on notice was that at that stage I had no details of the itinerary that the Treasurer was following and only the most general knowledge of the purpose of his visit. That is not in the slightest bit unusual. Ministers are constantly travelling for good reason, just as they did during the Fraser era, the McMahon era, the Holt era and the Gorton era-on a significantly greater scale, incidentally, than is the case these days. There is no reason whatsoever why my Department or I, as Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, should be expected to know off the top of my head what the circumstances are of a particular visit of a particular Minister.

But as it turns out, since I have been given the courtesy of a supplementary question by Senator Lewis, I am now able to answer with some precision what the circumstances are. There is no need for me to take that part of the question on notice. The Treasurer is taking up a longstanding invitation from the Soviet Government to visit the Soviet Union. His time in Leningrad will be mainly over a weekend from late Friday, 2 June, until he departs for Moscow early on Tuesday, 6 June. He will be making official calls in that time. The arrangements are in the hands of the Soviet authorities.

In Moscow the Treasurer will address the Institute of International Relations on the international economy. He will meet members of that institute. He will meet with the committee on Soviet industry and economic reconstruction. Appointments have also been sought with the central committee of the Soviet Communist Party and a range of other Soviet representatives. Precise meetings will depend upon the appointment this week by the Supreme Soviet of the Prime Minister and Ministers of the Soviet Government. Of course the identification of appointees has been in issue pending that meeting of the Supreme Soviet this week.

May I conclude by saying that it is entirely appropriate that Australia should continue to develop high level links with the Soviet Union consistent with not only our foreign policy interests but also our national economic interests, and of course not least in order to keep before our eyes a detailed current understanding of the important changes which are occurring in Soviet policy. There is no question whatsoever of anything other than the most ample and substantial justification for the Treasurer's visit to the Soviet Union. As a result the question is totally misconceived.