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Downer puts Howard first and Australia last.

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Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Security


In Parliament today Foreign Minister Downer indicated the Government was going to put John Howard’s interests first and Australia’s interests last in its approach to a Treaty of Amity and Cooperation with ASEAN.

Mr Howard’s political interests are clear: to save face from his appalling blunder of two years ago when he declared a policy of regional military pre-emption.

Mr Downer demonstrated today that the Government would continue to defend its doctrine of military pre-emption, despite its plainly representing the fundamental obstacle to Australia considering positively the Treaty of Amity and


This is the real reason preventing the Howard Government from providing a positive indication of support for such a treaty. Mr Downer is desperately seeking to construct other defences which simply don’t hold water. He now


• That the TAC is incompatible with our alliance with the United States. But if that’s the case why have long-standing allies of the US (Japan and South Korea) recently signed? Does this make them second class allies?

• That signature to a TAC would prevent criticism of human rights abuses within ASEAN. Mr Downer has not presented persuasive evidence on this question. It also leaves aside his own Government’s appalling record on human rights abuses in Burma where it has been inactive and virtually silent.

• That Labor in office did not sign the TAC. But Mr Downer conveniently ignores the fact that this is the first time Australia has been invited to attend an ASEAN summit meeting after 30-years of dialogue status. ASEAN and broader East Asia are plainly entering into a new era - as demonstrated by the ASEAN Plus Three arrangements from which Australia continues to be excluded.

Mr Downer’s performance today on this question was unconvincing in the extreme - a man arguing a brief which he gives every indication he doesn’t really believe in.

Ends. 29 November 2004

Media contact: Alister Jordan 0417 605 823