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Monday, 6 December 1993
Page: 3838

Senator BROWNHILL —Is the Minister for Foreign Affairs aware that Jakab Industries in Tamworth is likely to lose a $30 million contract to supply civilian and army ambulances to the Malaysian ministries of health and defence? Will the government compensate Australian industry for losses resulting from Mr Keating's intemperate and ill-considered remarks against the Malaysian Prime Minister?

Senator GARETH EVANS —I am not aware of that particular commercial case. But, of course, I am aware that a number of Australian businesses are concerned that if the situation with Malaysia further deteriorates, their commercial prospects may well be put at risk. That is something obviously of very great concern to the Australian government.

  Our reaction, however, is as I have described it: we do not accept that the Prime Minister's original remarks were as have been described. Indeed, it will be recalled, I hope, by those from the other side who can bring a little honesty to bear in this debate that the initial reactions of Mr Peacock and Mr Fischer, both of whom publicly commented at the time, were very understanding of Mr Keating's remark and said as much at the time because they well knew the context, as I have described it today and as has been described before, in which Mr Keating made his remark.

  We all want to avoid a situation where there will be problems of this kind arise with Australian industry, but it is a matter of doing what any country has to do—namely, maintain its own dignity and an appropriate sense of national self-interest in the way in which it responds to these situations. I believe and the government believes that the response that has been given by Mr Keating, in which he has made it absolutely clear that no offence was intended and that, if offence was taken, it is regretted, is an appropriate response under the circumstances and ought to be accepted by the Malaysian government in the spirit in which that response has been given.

Senator BROWNHILL —Mr President, I have a supplementary question. The minister seemed to miss the question that was asked. He is aware, is he not, then, of AWA and its potential $40 million worth of contracts to Malaysia which may be lost? I ask him again: what are he and his department doing to assist specific Australian industries with contracts now in jeopardy as a result of those self-indulgent remarks of Mr Keating in Seattle?

Senator GARETH EVANS —There is nothing I can usefully add to my earlier answer.