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Wednesday, 7 November 1973
Page: 1595

Senator WHEELDON (Western Australia) - I had not intended to intervene in this debate until I heard some of the latter remarks Senator McManus. The reason I did not intend to speak on this subject is that what we have heard this afternoon and this evening from Opposition speakers have been variations on the tired old unmelodious theme that we have been hearing down the years in this Senate. It is the theme that Dr Evatt was an agent of Molotov, that Dr Cairns was an agent of Ho Chi Minh and that now the Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, is the agent of Mao Tse-tung. I think the people of Australia have shown the Opposition parties what they think about those claims. They have treated this nonsense with contempt. I think that it is only from a very bankrupt opposition that we can find this same dreary drivel being served up to us again.

What I do wish to come to are some matters raised at the end of Senator McManus 's speech in which he made some reference to the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence, of which I am Chairman. Apparently Senator McManus wishes us to believe that in some way the Government has been involved in a conspiracy in order to clip the wings of the once powerful body- the Foreign Affairs Committeeand to hamper its activities under the new constraints under which he says it has been put. I wish to deal with some of the points which Senator McManus made. First, he told us that the Committee did not meet for 7 months. In fact, the Committee met immediately it was constituted -

Senator McManus - Yes, after 7 months.

Senator WHEELDON -It met immediately it was constituted as a completely new committee which had no predecessor in this Parliament.

Senator McManus - You are not going too well.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Davidson)- Order!

Senator WHEELDON - If I am not going too well it is because the Acting Deputy President apparently is unable to hear some of the interjections. The Committee sat immediately it had been constituted. Senator McManus complains, apparently- I take it, Mr Acting Deputy President, that you at any rate can hear me above the interjections- that one of the incorrect actions taken by the Government has been to refer matters to the Committee. Those matters include the investigation of the foreign affairs and defence implications of an Omega station in Australia and the question of dual nationality. I am surprised that Senator McManus should object to the reference on dual nationality because the Committee that is humourously described as the Senate Select Committee on the Civil Rights of Migrant Australians was supposed to report on dual nationality, among all its other problems. One would have thought that it was rather late for the Leader of the Democratic Labor Party, Senator McManus, to be complaining about any parliamentary committee inquiring into dual nationality. Is it to be alleged that the question of an Omega station in Australia is not an important question? Of course it is an important question. It is a very important question.

Senator McManus - It is to Gough.


Senator McManus - That is why we got it.

Senator WHEELDON - Yes, it is important to the Prime Minister. It is important to me. It is important to the Parliament. It is important to the people of Australia. That is why this matter is being considered. Senator McManus has said that somehow the work of the Committee has been stymied by dealing with these other matters. But he said that the Chairman was able to assure the Committee meeting that it would be able to hear witnesses on these various matters on which he wants to hear them. It is not a question of the Chairman -

Senator McManus - He has us on the rails.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Davidson)-Order!

Senator WHEELDON -Thank you. It is not a question of the Chairman being able to assure the Committee that anything was going to happen at all. The Committee resolved that this was what would be done. At no stage has the Chairman ever suggested any action which has not been the wish- I would say the unanimous wish- of the Committee. When the matter of the Omega station was referred to the Committee a time-table was set for the evidence which would be heard and the Chairman has carried out the wishes of the Committee. At no stage has the Chairman, the Government or anybody else tried to inflict any sort of time-table on the Committee. When it was suggested at the last meeting of the Committee that, as all the evidence on the Omega station had been heard, there should be a deferment of hearing the first evidence on the question of dual nationality so that some witnesses could be heard on matters of a more general nature, this suggestion was agreed to by the Chairman and by all the Labor Party members of the Committee who were present at that meeting. So all the decisions which have been taken by the Committee about the manner in which it would transact its business were decisions taken by the Committee. Despite the statements by Senator McManus about that Committee, I can recollect that at no stage did he object to any time-table which the Committee laid down. He waited until its deliberations were finished and his speech was being broadcast when there were little old ladies in white tennis shoes huddled around their radio sets wondering what was the latest good news from the DLP, before he told us about the terrible things that went on. But when he was at Committee meetings with his colleagues what did we hear from him on this matter? Not one word!

I wish to say something about this Committee. I find it rather extraordinary that an Opposition senator should be saying that somehow or other this once great Committee which used to function has now been sabotaged by this Government. I well recollect the previous Committee, which bore a similar name. I was a member of it. Occasionally I attended its meetings, lt was like a sort of secret Workers Education Association class at which people from the Department of Foreign Affairs or somewhere gave us information which sounded like a resume of last month's Reader's Digest'. It was all done in secrecy and behind closed doors. Not one word from this power house of secret information was to be given to the public. There we were with documents marked 'Secret' or with the name of the recipient on them and the words 'Do not open unless and until you have turned the lights off'. This is what used to go on under the previous Government.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Davidson)- Order! Senator Wheeldon, I know that you are replying to statements which were made by Senator McManus, but I remind you that the Senate is debating a ministerial statement on the visit of the Prime Minister to Japan and China. Therefore, I would be glad if you would return to the subject matter before the Senate.

Senator WHEELDON -Mr Acting Deputy President, I appreciate your interest in the Standing Orders although, if I may say so, it is a little belated. I am replying to matters which were raised in relation to the statement. The allegation was made that the Prime Minister was trying in some way to sabotage discussion on foreign affairs because of actions which he has taken in relation to this Committee.- We have opened the proceedings of the Committee to the public, something which the previous Government was afraid to do. The Australian Labor Party has constituted a committee which hears public evidence. Evidence on a matter of public importance is heard in public. The deliberations and the questions are in public. The Government is proud of this.

I deal now with some of the other matters which have been raised. It was rather interesting that the allegation should be made that somehow Mr Whitlam is a front man for the Chinese. I am rather interested that when the Opposition deals with this matter it feels no urge to explain its change in position. I can remember- it must have been within the last few months- when the Government was not a front for the Chinese Communist Party but was a front for the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. I would have thought that Senator McManus, with his deep interest in these matters and with his theological background, would have been able to explain the matter to us because it is a very complex problem.

Senator McManus - You are getting dirty now.

Senator WHEELDON - I appreciate a theological background. I have one.

Senator McManus - Keep it clean.

Senator WHEELDON - It is very clean. The allegation has been made that on one occasion we were following the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. No one has ever corrected that allegation and said: 'We would like to draw the attention of the Senate to the fact that the ALP followed the Communist Party of the Soviet Union but it does not do so any more'. We are being told, without any correction, that the same Party which follows the Communist Party of the Soviet Union also follows the Communist Party of China- a remarkable feat which even Houdini would have been incapable of performing.

I would not agree with Senator Turnbull 's statement that the North. Vietnamese people hate the Chinese people. I was recently in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. I was subjected to some criticism for going there. I think I was alleged on that occasion to be some sort of agent for the Vietnam Workers ' Party, a communist party. I did not find that they hated the Chinese Communist Party, China or the Chinese people. They certainly pursue an independent line. They do now kowtow to the Chinese. They do not accept directions from the Chinese Communist Party or the Chinese Government. They have closer relations, although by no means indissoluble bonds or overpowering bonds, with the Soviet Union. It would be interesting to learn from some of the Opposition speakers who have accused us of being agents of North Vietnamese communists and of being agents of Ho Chi Minh how it is that we are simultaneously his agents and the agents of his Party and the agents of China when the Vietnam Workers' Party still belongs to the Communist and Workers International which the Chinese Communist Party has condemned as a revisionist organisation. They are matters which have been raised. Senator Greenwood spoke for long enough to explain them. I think he has not stopped talking for half the time that the Senate has been in session for the past couple of years. I should have been interested to hear him explain some of these matters to us, because they are very intricate and very complex. Perhaps he could shed some light on them for us.

The Australian Government has, for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century, recognised what reality is. Despite what the previous Government said, China is not a little island off the coast. China is a huge country which has approximately one-third of the world's population. It is a growing country. It is a country which, whether one agrees or disagrees with it, is a powerful and increasingly powerful country and a country with which it is in the essential interests of Australia to have close relations and to have trade relations. This Government has established those relations. I should like to see members of the Opposition go to the farmers and the manufacturers of this country and tell them that they are opposed to the trade agreement with China. Are members of the Opposition opposed to the trade agreement with China? Do they believe that we should not have this agreement with China? Do they believe that we should not have a trade agreement with the German Democratic Republic? Do they believe that we should not engage in substantial wheat sales, for the first time, to a country of 20 million people which the bankrupt Opposition, so recently thrown out of office, said did not exist?

They are the real issues. We have a government which acknowledges reality and which says: 'China is there. There it is. We recognise it. We trade with it. We want to have friendly relations with it. There is the German Democratic Republic. There is North Vietnam. We want to work together with all these countries and try, with all the difficulties- we know there are difficulties- to bring about some peace in this war-torn world in which all of us have the mls.furtune to live'. We have done not only these things but we have done concrete things in the matter of trade. We have improved the standard of living of the Australian people by making it possible for Australia to enter into trade arrangements with these countries in a way in which the previous Government was completely incapable of doing. For those reasons, I welcome the statement by the Prime Minister.

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