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Tuesday, 18 March 1980
Page: 721

Senator CHIPP (Victoria) (Leader of the Australian Democrats) - I second the motion and will speak briefly. I would like other senators to involve themselves in this matter. I thoroughly support the motion that Senator Button has moved. I invite Government senators to support it also. No pan of the motion should preclude Government senators from voting for the suspension of Standing Orders. The motion is simply a request for Senator Durack to ask the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to answer the questions by or on next Thursday. It is an urgent matter and it conforms with Standing Order 448. Some Government senators may agree that we should extend the ANZUS Treaty to include the Indian Ocean. Some Government senators may believe we ought to make an absolute commitment to military co-operation in the Middle East. If that is their view, I respect them for it; I would disagree with them but I would respect them for having a view. Surely Government senators are entitled to know whether the Prime Minister made that commitment to two newspaper executives. One can lead on from that to ask: If he made it to two newspaper executives did he make it to the President of the United States? I believe it is vitally urgent that the Senate be given that information.

It is highly significant that the Prime Minister in his answer which I received today did not deny that he said he had committed troops to the Arabian Sea. There is no denial at all. If he did not make that statement to the two American journalists, why does he not deny it? He did not deny that he said that our military co-operation would be absolute. If he did not say that, why does he not deny it? In my understanding of English absolute military co-operation means going the whole way in the Middle East, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. For this reason I believe that those senators who might agree with the Prime Minister's commitment or lack of commitment as well as those who do not ought to know the facts. I am becoming very concerned, as are Senator Button and, indeed, Senator Wriedt who asked questions on the role of the Office of National Assessments in this situation, that we are not being given answers. Why should we not be suspicious? In an article in the Melbourne Age of 31 January datelined Washington, Creighton Burns, not a left wing untrustworthy radical, states categorically:

Australia's offer to play a more active role in patrolling and surveillance in the Indian Ocean will also be on the table, at least in principle. That offer, announced by Mr Fraser on January 9 as pan of Australia's response to the crisis in Afghanistan, was actually made before the Soviet invasion.

That is the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. To me that is an incredibly significant statement for our man in Washington to make. Was Mr Fraser 's offer of absolute military co-operation made to the Americans before Afghanistan was taken? Clearly, if Mr Creighton Burns is to be believed, the offer was made before we were three days from another world war. I believe that we are entitled to know what the Prime Minister has committed this nation for. For that reason I strongly support Senator Button's motion. It simply requests Senator Durack to ask the Prime Minister to confirm or deny the allegations made against him in the newspaper and repeated in my question. It is a simple matter. It would not be difficult for the Prime Minister to say, if it is the truth: 'No, I did not mention the Arabian Sea; no, I have made no commitment to the Americans concerning a reinterpretation of ANZUS '. That is all that we are asking Government senators to support by way of this motion.

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