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Thursday, 29 March 1973
Page: 873

Mr N H Bowen (PARRAMATTA, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The Opposition will support this motion to appoint a Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence and will join in the appointment of members to take part in the work of the committee. We regard foreign affairs as an area in which rapid change and development is still taking place in the world. Australia has to meet new challenges and devise new policies. We believe that the Australian people expect and are entitled to expect a reappraisal of our foreign policy. May I say that we recognise that by their vote at the last election many Australians have demonstrated a belief that they thought the Australian Labor Party was likely to bring about some of these adjustments which the people thought were necessary or at least that Labor would try to bring them about. We do not run away from that conclusion. The Liberal Opposition in its own organisation and in its own committees will be making its own reappraisal of foreign policy in the light of that conclusion. It would not be correct to say that in any sense we have a closed mind and I hope that this joint committee will itself supply a forum where new policy areas can be investigated and where evidence from experts can be discussed by the committee. I note particularly in paragraph (1) (a) of the motion that the Committee will be appointed to consider and report upon foreign affairs and defence generally. This appears to give it in its constitution and charter some width in its capacity to inquire into matters of foreign affairs and defence generally.

I will come later to the latter parts of its constitution which are set out in the motion. But firstly may I say that I do not want what I have said to be taken to suggest that the Liberal Party in government was not in fact responding to changing events. I believe it was doing so, and indeed to a very much greater extent and much faster than it was ever given credit for. The changes we made over recent times were both significant and substantial. The Vietnam war was winding down. The United States was withdrawing its land forces from Asia, although still maintaining the enormous interest which it has in the Pacific area and indeed extending its Pacific command to a longitude the other side of Pakistan in the Indian Ocean. The People's Republic of China, after looking inwards for so long, was looking outwards to an increasing degree. Mainland China finally was admitted as a member of the United Nations. The previous government was not oblivious of these events. Indeed, when the right honourable member for Lowe (Mr McMahon) was Minister for Foreign Affairs he initiated a major study of the relationship of Australia with the People's Republic of China. There was evidence of the movement in Australia's policy under the previous government towards the Government of that country.

Australia had joined the South Pacific Forum relatively recently, demonstrating as a member, with the independence of Fiji in particular and the changes in this region, the direct interest of Australia. Indeed, as Foreign Minister I hosted a South Pacific Forum meeting in Canberra. We established a joint ministerial committee with Japan and as Foreign Minister I had the honour of hosting the first meeting of this committee in Canberra where 5 Japanese Ministers and corresponding Australian Ministers were in session for some days. This was probably the largest delegation of senior Japanese Ministers to visit another country, again demonstrating the initiative and the reaction of the previous Government to the changing circumstances of modern times.

Also as Foreign Minister 1 made it my business to visit Tokyo, Djakarta and New Delhi, just to mention some of our largest neighbours and ones of special significance to Australia. Of course, I visited other countries of significance to us as well. Having in mind the movements, particularly in the Middle East, in the positions of Soviet Russia and the United States of America, as well as the intensity of the threat to peace in that area generally, we applied to become a member of and were successful in joining the United Nations Security Council. We had plans further to develop our policies in relation to Africa, the Middle East and the enlarged European community. We changed the control of Australia House in London to the jurisdiction of the Department of Foreign Affairs having particularly in mind that we were building up our Brussells Embassy and had joined the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Therefore, I reject utterly the proposition that the previous Government was not in fact responding actively and with speed to changing circumstances.

This brings me back to the point which I was making earlier in my remarks. The responsibility in these matters is an obligation on all parties. It is an obligation which the Labor Party in Government is undertaking as it sees the situation. As I say, the Opposition does not resist the conclusion that the Australian people are looking for greater adjustments and changes, and ones which perhaps they can more readily appreciate. The Liberal Party understands this and will be working on this joint committee and in its own areas of research and study with this in mind.

Let me say also that in some respects the Australian people have not fully appreciated the extent and the nature of the changes in foreign policy which the Labor Government in office has been introducing. I think it would be not unfair to describe the movement in Australian foreign policy as being towards parallelism with the policies of Peking and Hanoi. There must be a desire in the Labor Government to align Australia with what is called, in the modern jargon, the third world*. There are difficulties and possibilities of risk for Australia in these policies which need to be explored and brought to public view. I gather that the Government is seeking an invitation, as though it were a great initiative, to the Algiers conference of the so-called non-aligned nations. I gather also that Mr Bijedic, during his recent visit here, offered his sponsorship to Australia in its efforts to obtain an invitation to this conference. Whether we will achieve observership status at this conference I do not know. But these are matters of considerable significance to the future of Australian foreign policy which the Australian people ought to consider.

Ultimately the test that must be applied to all initiatives in Australian foreign policy is whether what is proposed is in the best interests of Australia. Whatever we do must answer this test. I am by no means satisfied that some of the initiatives which have been taken since the present Government came to power answer this test. Since the Labor Party gained office there has been an undoubted change in our relations with the United States of America and with our nearest large neighbour, Indonesia. These changes have been for the worse. There has been a degree of deterioration in those relationships for Australia, notwithstanding whatever may have been said by the Prime Minister in his answers to questions this morning.

These changes flow not only from statements, which have been referred to, which were made by the Minister for Labour (Mr Clyde Cameron), the Minister for the Environment (Dr Cass) or the Minister for Overseas Trade (Dr Cairns), who referred to maniacs in the White House. These remarks had their impact in America but Americans are people with an adult approach who do not take such remarks as a basis for denying to the Australian Prime Minister the right to go to the United States, to be received there and spoken to. He may be told a thing , or two if he goes to America, but there is no question that if the Prime Minister, after he visits the United Kingdom, wishes to call in at Washington, as one would expect him to do, he should do so.

Before I leave the subject of America I suggest that it does not help our relations with that country for the Minister for Minerals and Energy (Mr Connor) to suggest that 3 things are certain - death, taxes and the continued devaluation of the American dollar. These remarks are headlined in America and are damaging to our relations with America, which are too valuable to be treated in this fashion. The Prime Minister, who is also Foreign Minister, has a very great responsibility to see that Australian foreign policy answers the test that I mentioned previously of at all times being in the long term interests of Australia. I do not wish to dwell further in my remarks on the appointment of a joint committee on the visit to Indonesia by the Prime Minister. But that visit did reveal to honourable members and to the Australian people a degree of naivety and even of arrogance in the Prime Minister's approach to Asian regionalism and a lack of understanding of the Asian view of these problems which required Mr Adam Malik, the Indonesian Foreign Minister, to give the Prime Minister a very gentle admonition or instruction when he was there. 1 do not think that this has improved Australia's relationship with Indonesia.

I return to the detail of the motion before the House. Paragraph 1 (b) speaks of matters being referred to the committee by the Ministei for Foreign Affairs, by the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) or by resolution of either House. If the Opposition joins the Government with goodwill, as it intends to do, in the operation of this committee, I hope that what is, according to what I read in the Press, to be the first matter to be referred to this committee - that is, the military significance of Omega' stations - is not typical of what will be referred to this committee. These stations, which are civil navigational aids to shipping, are to be established in Australia. In answer to a question in the House on this subject the Minister for Defence said that these stations were not a matter for him and that they came under the portfolio of the Minister for Transport (Mr Charles Jones). That is right enough. Yet this approach is not satisfactory to the left wing of the Labor Party. It does not like American bases and it does not like Americans. Therefore, to get the Government off the hook with elements of its own Party, this Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs is solemnly asked to meet and to consider the Omega stations. If that is the sort of subject which will be referred to the Committee, we will be wasting a large part of our time.

I suggest that the Committee should be given serious matters to consider and indeed that its sitting times will be such that members, spokesmen perhaps, on this side of the House, who, honourable members opposite will recall as it is not so long since they were on this side, have quite a lot to do, will be able to attend and take part in the deliberations of this Committee. Therefore the sitting times of and the references to this Committee will determine whether it will be able to operate successfully in the way in which it should.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Scholes)Order!Before I call the next member I remind the House that the subject of this debate is the setting up of a committee. It is not a general debate on foreign affairs. I allowed some latitude to the Prime Minister (Mr Whitlam) on this matter but I would remind honourable members that this is not a general debate on foreign affairs.

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