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Tuesday, 23 May 1972
Page: 2883

Mr HURFORD (Adelaide) - I congratulate the honourable member for Diamond Valley (Mr Brown) on a very thoughtful speech in this foreign affairs debate. I only wish that the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr N. H. Bowen) had been here to listen to it, and I hope that it will be drawn to his attention. It was in marked contrast with a couple of other contributions we have heard, those from the honourable member for Henty (Mr Fox) and the honourable member for the Northern Territory (Mr Calder). I particularly agree with him in what he had to say about Africa. I will concentrate on Australia's role in Asia. During the past couple of years very many and fundamental changes have been taking place in the attitudes of Asian countries in their relations with each other and with powers outside the region. However it seems that these radical changes in thinking have not yet greatly influenced the attitudes of the Australian Government in its foreign and defence services. In fact, what the honourable member for Diamond Valley had to say was in marked contrast with the attitudes of the Government which he supports. We can see this clearly from the ministerial statement of the Minister tor Foreign Affairs which we are debating here today.

The new thinking in Asian countries amounts to a questioning or in some cases a rejection of the belief that the security of individual nations can be protected and national interests promoted on the basis of alignment with great powers and the cold war style of confrontation and containment of communism. In question are those policies that require considerable defence effort and involvement in military treaties or other defence arrangements, often at the expense of the nation's international reputation for political and military independence. In a sense the 2 major super powers themselves have been responsible for stimulating the new thinking in international relations. The meeting taking place right now between President Nixon of the United States and the Soviet's Brezhnev in Moscow is an example of this. Both the Soviet Union and the United States have for some years been searching for ways of reducing the tensions between them, particularly those tensions that have buttressed the super power confrontation and have from time to time erupted into serious disputes that exposed the danger of nuclear war. China has now also moved into a more active diplomatic role that should encourage the normalisation of her relations with other Asian countries on the basis of peaceful coexistence, though she will enter into sharper competiton diplomatically and ideologically with the. Soviet Union and the United States.

These developments are manifestations, in my view, of a new realism in international relations based on a growing conviction that the present international situation is favourable for the working out of alternative arrangements to hostile confrontations between contending ideologies and different political systems. In effect at last there appear to be grounds for believing that the much discussed concept of peaceful coexistence can be negotiated into a realistic framework. There is a greater awareness of the dangers as well as the enormously wasteful cost of military confrontations and some optimism at the prospects of diplomatic and political means generally, rather than military strategies, for the promotion of the national interests of those countries anxious to assert themselves in international affairs. I trust that the present increase in hostilities in Vietnam is a temporary aberration on the part of America and that there will be a continuation of what earlier seemed to be a decline in the hostilities in that unfortunate country. For some time, a realisation that the approach to national security has been too negative has been growing. The enormous expenditure on defence - (According to the US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency in 1970 it was $US204,000m or the equivalent of one year's income of the entire population of the developing countries - has in most cases complicated national security problems rather than offer solutions to them. Despite great effort and expenditures, few countries would boast that a truly effective security system has yet been attained. At the same time, the belief is that good prospects exist for a new, stable balance in international relations, offering in the form of interlocking relationships, perhaps with super-power guarantees, an alternative to heavy defence expenditure as a measure to a better and more realistic security, and a future basis for disarmament and arms control.

The implications for Australia of recent developments and the new thinking in internaional relations are of great significance. Clearly the time is propitious for a searching re-examination of our foreign policy assumptions and for a thorough-going review of how our long term foreign policy objectives might best be attained. From this should emerge a clear outline of a new independent Australian foreign policy, one that is not rooted in the assumptions of the past, some of which appear to have been discredited, or too heavily influenced by direct reliance upon the experiences of friendly countries, with whom we have been closely linked culturally and politically. This new foreign policy framework would be based on the reality that Australia's position in the world is a unique one, and her foreign policy should therefore be formulated and expressed accordingly. It may be true that the experiences of our traditional friends in internatonal relations hold important lessons for us, but these lessons should serve rather as instructive experience than as models or inspiration of our policies and aims.

Before setting out on the taks of formulating new attitudes and objectives it is necessary to take stock of the current perceptions of Australian foreign policy and the reasons why they fall short of effectively promoting our national interests. It is true that the foreign policy of the nation is based upon its national interest, but what really matters is the way in which this national interest is analysed and translated into policies. Although there has been a perceptible change in recent years, since the end of the Second World War the preoccupation of Australian Governments has been the search for security against external attack. The advent of the cold war, and the aggressive style of the leadership of President Sukarno in Indonesia stimulated the fear that Australia might at any time be invaded by an aggressive Asian power from the north. The war in Indo-China and the fostering of such concepts as the so-called domino theory have added fuel to Australian fears.

The Australian reactions to the turbulent developments in Asia since World War II have reflected a greater preoccupation with the securing of our own defences than with the seeking of a deeper understanding of the changing scene and the developing of better relations with the countries of the region. These were the sorts of things about which the honourable member for Diamond Valley was talking. Australia has been enormously affected by its experiences in the Second World War and the belief that to survive in this region it must have a protector. As a result of these preoccupations the governments have followed a policy that could be described as one of defence before diplomacy. In fact my colleague, the honourable member for St George (Mr Morrison), would have perhaps described it as military interventionism before diplomacy. Not surprisingly the policies that have emerged from this thinking have been mostly of a negative character. Australia under successive LiberalCountry Party Federal Governments has sought protection from the United States and to a progressively lessening extent, from Britain, in the form of treaties and other commitments, seemingly based on the assumption that without this protection we would soon fall victim of some aggressor. Another plank of our foreign policy has been to develop treaty relationships with selected pro-Western countries in Asia, but it is probably fair to say that in reality these treaty relationships have been regarded by the Asians concerned more as efforts towards the defence of Australia, in the sense of a forward posture, than as efforts to help those Asian countries defend themselves.

These traditional themes of our foreign policy now appear to have been substantially questioned or in some cases discredited. In the case of our treaty relationships, it is not that relations with the United States, for example, have deteriorated but that there is a more rational appreciation of the nature of international relationships and of the strengths and limitations of the expressions of even the closest friendships. In a given international conflict it may be impossible to enforce or invoke a treaty because of the dangers involved and/or because priorities have changed, substantially weakening the spirit of the treaty. There is an impermanence in the strength and force of treaties such as ANZUS whose signatories are unequal in size and are separated from each other by great distances. The spirit of such treaties may decline into ineffectiveness as a result of changes in the interpretation of national interests. What was seen as a binding obligation or insurance policy 10 years ago might now be treated lightly, even cynically, by a party to it. Also, if taken too seriously, a treaty such as ANZUS can create a false sense of security, in that the real basis for the commitment of one country to another - close friendship and the identity of interests - may be ignored or treated too lightly. In effect, the ANZUS Treaty is worth no more than the state of the relationship between Australia, New Zealand and the United States. On the other hand it can be argued that if a close friendship and community interests have been established the need for a formal treaty scarcely exists.

If a genuinely independent and forward looking Australian foreign policy is to evolve, a comprehensive review of how

Australia's national interests might best be promoted should be carried out on the basis of these more rational considerations. The document we are debating today is no such review. A number of basic points suggest a framework for a new policy. The first is that we should accept that Australia's position is unique in many ways, necessitating a departure from the Western European traditions which have hitherto so strongly influenced Australian perspectives. Uninhibited by the prejudices of the past, we should adjust ourselves to the new trends in international relations, particularly those developments impinging on the attitudes and interests of the region in which Australia is situated. It will be contended by some that this is already the case and that Australia has moved closer to the major powers of Asia in recent years. But have we moved so very much closer? It could be argued that our policies have in truth been designed to keep Asia away from Australia. The Australian apprehension of a threat from the north - a threat from some Asian country - erupting amid conditions of political and economic instability has impelled the policy makers towards negative conclusions.

Political developments in Asian countries have been followed closely by the Government, but its paramount concern has been to determine whether Australian security has been endangered, whether communist objectives have been furthered and what defence measures should be taken to deter a possible threat. Seldom has the Government looked beyond these narrow objectives in an effort to discern the other elements in the situation and perhaps to encourage the countries concerned to meet these challenges in a more positive way.

How do we formulate more positive strategies? Firstly, we need to adjust ourselves to the realities of Australia's position and seek by more positive and active diplomacy to project a more progressive image of Australia to our neighbours. Ours is a prosperous and politically stable nation on the periphery of one of the most populous, economically depressed and politically unstable areas of the world. But the image we have, of a nation aloof and detached, is not one that inspires the respect and confidence of our neighbours. In order to improve this portrayal Australians need to make a sustained effort to move closer to our neighbours and to gain their confidence. This means the undertaking of more purposeful steps to acquire a deeper understanding of the countries of the region and to participate with them in their search for greater co-operation, such as the search for a system of collective security that would obviate the need for heavy defence expenditures.

As a sincere demonstration of Australia's involvement in the problems of the region, it would be a progressive move for Australia to assume the leading role among developed countries in development assistance. About 15 months ago I had the privilege to attend with an Australian delegation a debate on this very subject in the Council of Europe. The Government should aim at formulating a much expanded aid programme, more than doubling our present level of expenditure. This step conceivably would be a radical and constructive alternative to the existing reliance on defence support. For example, Australian military assistance to South East Asia is more than twice the current level of our development assistance to the region. This development assistance programme would range beyond the present concept of rendering aid, which, as far as Asian countries are concerned, resembles an international charity.

Although there is much more I would like to say about aid, let me merely say that I hope that the Minister for Foreign Affairs in his forthcoming trip to Bangladesh will take a new lead in aid to that country and that this will be the first step in a new era of aid for our Asian neighbours.

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