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Tuesday, 5 November 1996
Page: 5068

Senator HILL —I have a little extra information to add to an answer that I gave to Senator Bourne yesterday regarding Burma and the two policy options that she put to the government for consideration. I am pleased to say that the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Downer) says that I was right in that the Austrade office located within the embassy is very small—staffed by only two locally engaged people.

He adds that the office is not visited by Austrade staff from Australia or elsewhere in the region and it does not engage in active trade promotion, consistent with our policy of neither encouraging nor discouraging trade. It simply responds to questions raised by Australian companies, and this is to a background where our commercial trade with Burma is really minuscule. The result of that is basically that we do not believe that closing that office would have any effect in policy terms.

Similarly, the minister advises me that we are not attracted to visa restrictions because we do not believe they would be effective in promoting reform. He confirms that very few senior Burmese officials wish to visit Australia and that, in any case, the application of visa restrictions might lessen our ability to encourage reform through quiet diplomacy. We do not therefore believe it would be fruitful to isolate the SLORC in this way.

Whilst we continue to search for avenues in which we can influence change for the better in Burma, and we particularly do that through diplomacy, regrettably we do not believe that the suggestions of Senator Bourne will help us achieve the objectives that we would all like to see achieved.