Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Full Day's HansardDownload Full Day's Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 27 March 1980
Page: 1099


Senator BUTTON (Victoria) - I want to speak briefly to the motion moved by Senator Wriedt. If I may say with respect to my colleague, he has canvassed all the constructive issues which might make Australia's relationship with the Third World a little better, and discussed some of the positive recommendations of the Harries Report. I speak on this matter because I share his concern about the appalling sloppiness of this document and the difficulties which this Government continues to get into by not embarking upon a serious debate in regard to the sorts of questions raised by the Harries report and by converting what is potentially a serious debate into a very partisan document because of the total failure of an intellectual consistency in what it has been doing in relation to the Third World.

Listening at Question Time today to questions about the treatment of Aboriginals in the Kimberleys and their rights to vote, one would have thought that these issues, as was indeed put in essence by Government spokesmen, were questions for the State of Western Australia, and of no concern to the people of Australia as a whole. They are matters not only of concern to the people of Australia as a whole, but also ones of desperate concern to our position in the Third World. It is the need to have consistency on some of those matters which this Government so singularly lacks and which demonstrates the total failure of this document. As Senator Wriedt pointed out, this publication is a sloppy response, as it were, to the Harries report at a time deemed to be politically expedient by the Government.

One gets the picture that the Third World, in terms of this country's concern for and deliberation about it, is some sort of trendy aberration, that it is some sort of trendy issue like safari suits or something like that which people sometimes are accused of indulging in. Of course it is a far more serious matter than that, and I want to refer to a couple of comments in this statement which illustrate that point. The Minister says in the statement:

I observed then -

He is talking about some time ago-

The Third World is an object of strategic attention and competition on the part of the superpowers.


Senator Wriedt - What's new?


Senator BUTTON -As Senator Wriedtinterjects: What is new? More importantly, what has this Government done about that fact in terms of its aid contributions and so on. Earlier today during Question Time there were noisy questions about refugees from Afghanistan. One would have thought that the proudest boast of this sort of government, the Ministers of which accuse the Opposition of being apologists for the Soviet Union and matters of that kind, would be that the Minister had an instant answer to questions about what we are doing for refugees from

Afghanistan- an instant answer in terms of intellectual consistency. But what does he say? He says: 'We are not quite sure about the position there, but we will find out and an answer will be provided in due course'. It is absolutely typical of the approach of this document and the approach of this Government.

The other very interesting thing about the document which arouses my attention is the concentration which it gives to the whole question of Afghanistan. The Minister says in the document with great pride that the Harries report was written in the early part of 1 979. In the Harries report which was written in the early part of 1 979, the Government was being warned about possible Soviet expansion and intervention in Afghanistan, South Yemen and Ethiopia. Yet in October 1979, when a senator in this place- Senator Wheeldon- asked whether the Australian Government was concerned about large concentrations of Soviet troops in Afghanistan, the answer he got a fortnight later was this: 'Yes, we are concerned'. What was done about it? Nothing was done about it until the early part of this year. It was a time for engaging in noisy rhetoric about the Afghanistan syndrome, talking up an issue and not being able to point to a significant response.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) talks about the Third World being an area of superpower conflict. Does not our attitude to aid for Vietnam- the Fraser Government is punishing the Vietnamese, presumably for expelling refugees from that country, by cutting off aidhave a very important implication for Third World countries? We show by that action that we are prepared, as conservative governments have been prepared to do for years and years, to force countries into the Soviet orbit; we are not prepared to continue assistance on the basis of purely ideological, headmaster lines: We are going to punish them for this and that and we are not concerned with the legitimate question of aid.

Questions are asked in this chamber by Labor Party senators, as they have been in the last month or so, about the level of aid which this Government is giving to Mozambique. The answer, of course, is that we are giving an infinitesimal amount of aid. In approximately 12 months time- I do not want to sound in any sense like a doomsday person on this matterwhen Mozambique falls totally within the Soviet orbit, as it will do because the Russians are pouring masses of aid into that country where it is desperately needed, we will be told: 'Look what the naughty Russians are up to again'. We will not be told what the contribution of this country has been in terms of trying to relieve a very serious situation in that country. So there are lessons to be learnt for the future as well as conclusions to be drawn from the past.

The other point I make is that the Minister rightly states: . . the unequivocal expression of revulsion by the vast majority of countries of the Third World, as expressed in particular in their massive vote in the United Nations General Assembly in condemnation of the Soviet Union, has not yet led that superpower to remove its invading forces from Afghanistan.

Here in Australia we say that we will stop those three Russian judges coming here and we will stop four research scholars going to Russia. Indeed, we may put pressure on our Olympic Games team to stop them going to Russia.


Senator Wriedt - The university people- to stop them.


Senator BUTTON - Yes, research scholars. We will stop all that. This action in connection with research scholars is one that the United States has not seen fit to take. We will make this ritualistic, rhetorical gesture when, as the Minister points out, the vast majority of countries of the Third World have expressed their concern by a vote in the United Nations. It is legitimate to ask what that additional contribution from Australia will make towards solving the problem of the people of Afghanistan.

The other important point which emerges from that is that Australia's response to the Afghanistan crisis was not to go immediately to the Third World countries about anything we particularly wanted to do in terms of a response to Afghanistans but to allow our Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to go to the white anglosaxon club in London and the United States, and, consequent upon a suggestion from Senator Wriedt, also to go on to see Helmut Schmidt in Germany. But the response, of course, was not to take advantage of what I believe to be a major foreign policy mistake by the Soviet Union in terms of its influence and significance in Third World countries, but rather to go back to the old club. Our response was not to go immediately to the Third World countries.


Senator Carrick - Didn't Mr Peacock visit seven of those countries at the same time?


Senator BUTTON -Yes, he did. I understand that, Senator Carrick, but the big act was in the United States -


Senator Carrick - But you said we didn't do it.


Senator BUTTON -No, I did not. I was talking about the Prime Minister, with respect. The point I am making is that the big stunt was in the United States. That was where he went to stiffen up President Carter and tell him what to do. Then he went on to see Margaret Thatcher and have a discussion with her about it. Of course, he then went to see Helmut Schmidt, where we were in fact told that it is too serious a problem for Prime Ministers of little countries like Australia to be wandering all around the world beating it up, that they really do not want our assistance on this issue, thank you very much. But the Foreign Minister did go to these other countries.

How one handles these matters is really a question of emphasis. The big stunt the Government put on was to send Malcolm Fraser to the United States. The sort of supplementary activity which seemed to me to be far more worth while was to send the Foreign Minister to the countries of South East Asia, India and so on. Of course, even in respect of the Foreign Minister's response, the first announcement was that he was going to tell them of Australia's attitude. The second announcement was that he was going to have an exchange of views with them. The third announcement was that he was going to get their views and bring them back to the Government. That represents a nice change of position.

Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.


Senator BUTTON -Mr President-( Quorum formed).Before the suspension of the sitting for lunch the Senate was considering the statement made in the House of Representatives by the Minister for Foreign Affairs on the Harries report relating to Australia's relationships with the Third World. In the course of my remarks I have been trying to point out that this statement, which has now been tabled by the Minister, represents a trite, blinkered approach to what is in essence an important document. Whether or not one agrees with all of the Harries report the fact of the matter is that it represents a serious approach to the question to which the Harries Committee addressed its attention. It is extremely sad that such a sloppy little document should come out of the Department of Foreign Affairs regurgitating, as it were, issues in the Harries report. Inevitably, in the context of a Fraser Government, half of the so-called response to the Harries report is devoted to the Afghanistan situation- which is perceived to be of political and electoral importance in the Australian community at the moment- and not to the more serious and positive issues of a wider purport with which the report deals.

Before the suspension of the sitting I commented on the Australian reaction to events in

Afghanistan in view of the sorts of quotations from the Harries report which appear on page 7 of the statement. The Minister drew attention to the fact that in early 1979, when the Harries report was written, attention was drawn to tensions in the area of the Indian Ocean and, particularly, to Soviet expansionism or influence in Afghanistan, South Yemen and Ethiopia. Yet in October 1979, when a question was asked in the Senate about whether this Government was aware of significant Soviet troop movements into Afghanistan, what was the response of the Government? Senator Wheeldon, who asked that question, received the response a couple of weeks later that the Government was concerned. That is a ludicrous situation in the light of subsequent events and in the light of the fact that the United Nations resolved by a very significant majority to condemn the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and so on. That illustrates again the points which we have made in the Senate earlier. Even in 1978 Malcolm Booker in his book entitled Last Quarter almost drew a scenario for events in Afghanistan which, one would have thought, should have been in the minds of members of any responsible government as a possibility that had to be considered but which was clearly not considered by this Government.

I also drew attention to the situation in Mozambique as it is now and made the observation that lessons were probably to be learnt from the past by an enlightened government in view of the massive Russian aid that has been given to Mozambique. I sadly predicted that we might see yet another sort of Afghanistan situation developing there. We would then all go again to the wailing wall in the Senate about the naughty Soviets. Yet at this stage, even looking ahead, it appears that the Australian Government is making very little response in terms of aid in that situation. It is also important, as I have said, to consider the sort of headmaster approach of Australia's foreign relations and this Government's attitude to aid to Vietnam. This aid was abandoned by way of punishment, as it were, because of the matter of refugees from Vietnam. The consequences of that action, of course, are very obvious in terms of continuity of relationships between a country such as Vietnam and the Soviet Union. It forces a country such as Vietnam more and more into the orbit ofthe Soviet Union as a country upon which it can rely for regular and consistent aid.

In the final paragraph on page 8 of the statement the Minister goes on to refer to the Third

World countries' attitudes to events in Afghanistan. Firstly, the statement says that condemnation in the United Nations has not led to any withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan by the Russians. It is in that context that I think we quite legitimately query whether the small token gestures we make by refusing scholarships for four Australian research scientists to go to the Soviet Union and other such gestures will, in effect, have any effective consequence whatsoever, if one really attaches significance to the United Nations resolution to Afghanistan. The statement goes on to refer to the view of the Third World countries insofar as they maintain their demand for an independent and non-aligned Afghanistan. The statement reads:

.   . even the Soviet Union may at least ultimately rue the damage to its reputation and standing in the Third World.

The point I was making earlier was that when a significant and tragic international event such as the invasion of Afghanistan has occurred the major thrust of the response of a country such as Australia under the present Government really ignores the Third World. I said before that the Prime Minister presumably does not even think of going to some of the Third World countries which are legitimately and very strongly concerned about Afghanistan. Instead the stunt took place in the United States of America and in the white anglo-saxon countries. Immediately after the incident the Prime Minister headed off for the United States, then he went to England to see Margaret Thatcher and then, as I said earlier, at the suggestion of Senator Wriedt he went to see Helmut Schmidt.


Senator Knight - The Foreign Minister went to Asia. The Prime Minister could not do the lot.


Senator BUTTON -I understand that. But what I am seeking to say- and I hope the honourable senator does not regard it as uncharitable- is that the major stunt engineered by the Fraser Government in response to Afghanistan was the Prime Minister's stunt and the Foreign Minister's -


Senator Knight - Do you think the Asian trip was another stunt?


Senator BUTTON - No, I do not say that at all. Please do not -


Senator Knight - You said one was a major stunt. I thought that perhaps you regarded the other as a stunt also.


Senator BUTTON - There have been dozens of stunts. The major stunt was the Prime Minister's trip to Washington and then on to London, and so on. The important, significant and sensible foreign affairs effort was in some ways the Foreign Minister's trip to various non-aligned countries in South East Asia. Even in that context one sees it all starting with the Foreign Minister announcing that he will tell those countries of Australia's attitude. His second major Press release, from Kuala Lumpur, said that he had come for an exchange of views, and the third major Press release, from New Delhi, said that he had come to sound out the views of those countries. It was an extraordinary volte-face in the way that the whole initiative was announced and the way it changed in the course of the Foreign Minister's trip. So, there was that sort of tragically sad comment, from the point of view of Australia, in the Indonesian Press, which described our Foreign Minister as a man who walks tall with a short stick. That emphasised the sort of flavour which those countries attached to that trip.

On page 8 of the distributed copy of his statement, the Foreign Minister makes the point that we should have regard to the attitudes of the Third World on a number of issues, particularly Afghanistan. He refers to the Third World 's demand for an independent and non-aligned Afghanistan. He goes on to say that even the Soviet Union, as a consequence, may rue the day in relation to its standing in the Third World. I repeat something that I and others have said here on numerous occasions. I believe that that statement about the Soviet Union rueing the day in regard to its standing in the Third World is of profound importance, and it is profoundly correct in relation to what took place in Afghanistan. I would have thought that the intelligent response by Australia to the situation in the Third World, in terms of foreign policy, would have been to capitalise as far as possible on that mistake. The particular question which the Minister raises of the demand by Third World countries for an independent and non-aligned Afghanistan has been treated with massive silence by the Australian Government. The British Government is to be congratulated for promoting the notion of an independent and non-aligned Afghanistan in the context of suggestions made by the Foreign Minister in the Thatcher Government. Really, there has been no positive response from the Australian Government on that issue.


Senator Lajovic - Or from the Soviet Union.


Senator BUTTON -Of course not, but I am not responsible for the Soviet Union. I am responsible for encouraging this Government to adopt more intelligent initiatives in foreign policy.


Senator McLaren - You are not responsible for sending 'Nareen' wool to the Soviet Union either, are you?


Senator BUTTON - No, Senator. In the second paragraph on page 9 of the circulated copy of the statement, there is an interesting new development, where the Minister states:

.   . the primary strategic responsibility for the response-

That is, to Afghanistan- must lie with the other super-power- the United States and its associates including Australia. That is the basic strategic requirement.

This Government does not seem yet to have sorted out its understanding of what that situation involves. If one goes back to the defence White Paper, which has been often talked about over four years by Government spokesmen, again and again it has been said that the area of strategic concern to Australia is the immediate Pacific region, the South East Pacific and so on. That is the sort of defence situation to which we should make a defence response. Clearly, in the defence White Paper the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea and similar areas are recognised as areas of super-power involvement insofar as Australia is concerned. They have been recognised as areas of super-power involvement because under this Government Australia has no means, in defence terms, of being involved even if it were decided that it was strategically desirable that we should be. Of course, that decision has not been made.

In this statement there is the first indication from Mr Andrew Peacock that he is prepared to go along in some way with the Prime Minister's off-the-top-of-his-head views expressed in the United States and elsewhere that the ANZUS Treaty involves, as he put it, the Indian Ocean and the Arabian Sea. I do not know whether that view has come from the Department of Foreign Affairs or one of the whizz kids in the Prime Minister's Department, because it has that touch of Fraserism about it. Perhaps the Minister for Foreign Affairs has just been affected by the general disease of Fraserism which debilitates this Government. It is a view which has never been articulated by any Government spokesman. I believe that it has never been considered by the Foreign Affairs Department or any senior advisers to the Government. But, that view was suitable for peddling in the Hearst newspapers in the United States. In this document from the Foreign Minister there is the first indication that in some ways the area previously designated by this Government's defence White Paper as an area of super-power responsibility has now become an area of super-power responsibility, with its associates, including Australia. I point to the slide in foreign policy, and in defence and strategic policy, which is demonstrated in this bland statement. It is certainly there.

The other section of this sloppy statement about which I want to talk appears in the last paragraph on page 9 of the statement. There a series of rhetorical questions is asked by the Minister. He asks:

Will the Third World maintain its stand against Soviet expansionist policies as evinced in the General Assembly vote on Afghanistan?

Will it, indeed? That is a very important question. But, what is the answer? Gertrude Stein, on her deathbed, asked herself a famous question. What is the answer?', she is claimed to have said. As she died, she asked: 'But, what is the question?' The situation we have here is that process in reverse. It is a statement which purports to be of importance about strategic relationships, foreign policy and our relations with the Third World. It ends with a series of rhetorical questions about what the Third World will do.


Senator Tate - It is preaching to them under the guise of questions.


Senator BUTTON -That is right. As Senator Tate says, it is preaching to them under the guise of questions. I dislike particularly the fact that it is an extremely patronising attitude, which I think is very bad. Senator Chaney is looking at me quizzically. He should consider the point I am making about this statement. It is an extremely patronising attitude if one is dealing with Third World countries. Presumably Third World countries, through their embassies, are seeing these sorts of statements from the Australian Government which end with these rhetorical questions: Will Third World countries maintain their stand against Soviet expansionism; will they see that the danger is not just to specific, isolated countries subverted and then invaded by a massive and predatory neighbour; and, will they see clearly that far from conflicting with their nonalignment, opposition to Soviet expansionism is a necessary condition for its preservation?

Will they see all these things or are these Third World countries stupid? That is the implication of these questions. Will they see these things or are they stupid, naive Asians and Africans who are incapable of seeing them as a sophisticated, capable country like Australia can see where their interests lie and is capable of reading the signs in international events and interpreting them for its less fortunate brothers in the Third

World? That is the shocking implication in that statement. It is one of extreme patronage. In a sense, the Minister provided the answer when he said:

It was partly because of these considerations that after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan the Government felt it essential that Australia consult in our region with a number of non-aligned countries.

That sentence describes the Peacock trip in the most bland but also modest terms in which it has ever been described. One would have thought that rather than making an oblique reference to the fact that Mr Peacock went to all these countries in South East Asia the Minister should have told us a little about what he found out and what the results of his trips to various countries were. But the statement does nothing of the kind. The contents of the last, very important paragraph condemn the whole statement. It is a statement of the utmost importance relating to a very important report which this Government has brought down. I congratulate the Government on the conception of the Harries inquiry. One does not necessarily agree with all the findings. There could be a debate amongst us about the findings of the Harries report and the recommendations it makes, but it was a good initiative that the Harries inquiry was commissioned and the report written.

The Government has responded to the report with politically oriented rhetoric about Afghanistan, designed more for the people in the outer suburbs of Melbourne than for any serious consideration of foreign affairs. The statement is filled with silly, patronising rhetorical questions to which no answer is given. That is the thing which condemns the statement most of all. Not only is it quite silly in its content, not only does it give no real factual information about any of the things which one might be concerned about in terms of Australia's relationship with the Third World, but also it concludes with a paragraph which shows that the Government does not understand in any sense what the relationships of Australia, as a white Anglo-Saxon power in this region, ought to be with the Third World. This lack of understanding is epitomised in the last paragraph. There is a crass insensitivity in the way that paragraph is phrased.

As I have said, there are a number of reasons for criticising this statement. It says nothing about Australia's foreign aid effort except to record- this statement must be related to other documents- a decline in development aid. It says nothing constructive about approaches to and relationships with Third World countries. It is mainly devoted to making silly political points about Afghanistan which in reality are embarrassing to the Government itself in view of its stance on the matter. On strategic and defence issues it departs from everything that this Government has said, and has been saying for the last four years, based on the defence White Paper. It ignores the sensitive issue of countries being forced into the Soviet orbit by a wrong approach to aid by countries such as Australia which are in competition with responsive countries such as the Soviet Union and countries in the Soviet block. It impinges on defence isues which it should not properly have done. It concludes with a patronising statement about Third World countries and a series of totally unanswered rhetorical questions.







Suggest corrections