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Wednesday, 8 December 1993
Page: 4172


Senator CARR (4.10 p.m.) —I oppose this censure motion of the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) which is before the Senate today. This motion states that the Prime Minister should be censured for:

. . . his failures to take appropriate action to prevent the increasing and continuing damage to Australia's relations with Malaysia, Australia's standing in Asia and Australia's significant trade with Malaysia arising from his intemperate remarks concerning the Malaysian Prime Minister.

It is very disappointing that a motion of this type has been moved because, essentially, it is so untimely, so unfortunate and so completely inappropriate. It is quite clear that such a proposition is ill-considered and, in my view, totally irresponsible.

  Senator Alston said that words are bullets in diplomacy. Surely that is an adage that applies as much to the opposition as anybody else. The talk about an undisciplined response would surely also apply to the remarks of Senator Alston and the opposition in this whole issue. Senator Hill talked about the need to be sensitive to the development of a relationship with Malaysia. I would suggest that that is good advice for the opposition to follow as well.

  The Australian government has tried to resolve these issues in a manner befitting the difficulties facing our relationship with Malaysia at the moment—that is, in a manner befitting the very serious interests that are at stake between this country and Malaysia, and in a manner that clearly points out that our intentions were, essentially, not to cause offence to Malaysian officials, the Malaysian government or the Malaysian people, but to understand how significant is that relationship between Malaysia and Australia.

  We can measure that significance in trade terms. We can point out, for instance, that currently the trade between the two nations stands at $2.4 billion. We can also point to the fact that the level of imports coming from Malaysia to Australia is very significant and growing—it grew some 17 per cent to $380 million in the last year. We can also indicate the very large level of exports from Australia to Malaysia, with Australia now being the 14th largest source of imports within the Asian region. It is also important to point out the assistance that Australia is giving Malaysia in education. As Senator Gareth Evans indicated today, the relationship goes far beyond mere trade matters; it goes to defence, to economic development, to a regional complexion, and also to a global complexion.

  Given the complexity of that relationship, one would think it would be appropriate for all members of this community, all aspects of government—I include the opposition when I talk about government apparatus in this country—to have some consideration for the national interest and not seek to use quite opportunistic, undisciplined, irresponsible and totally ill-considered actions to try to embarrass the government at a time like this in an attempt to score rather simple and cheap political points which only serve to exacerbate the dispute. If the intentions of those opposite were really sincere, they would be talking about ways and means by which this dispute could be resolved, not adding fuel to the fire.

  I also put those points about national responsibility to elements of the Australian media. There are times in any conflict when I believe that our national interest should be held above some of the more lurid aspects of our domestic political debate. There are times when it is the responsibility of certain sections of the Australian media to understand that their actions, in themselves, can inflame the situation. Just as it is the responsibility of all members of parliament to appreciate that their words are bullets, so it is the responsibility of journalists to understand that their words are bullets also.

  I take the view, as expressed quite clearly in the Age yesterday, that the opportunity has been taken to try to point out the regret that has been expressed by the Australian government in an attempt to mend what is quite obviously a difficult situation. But there is no intention on the part of the Malays to treat this in a magnanimous way. We have to recognise those basic facts of life and we have to understand that, as the Age indicated quite clearly yesterday, perhaps now is the time for silence. I suggest it would be appropriate for this motion to be defeated.