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PLO policy - Prime Minister stews in his own juice

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John Hewson Leader of the Opposition M e d i a R e l e a s e

24/91 7 February 1991


It has taken a major war in the Middle East for the Australian Government to see the true colours of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). After upgrading the PLO's status in Australia on a number of occasions over recent years, the Government has now finally moved to ban Ministerial dialogue with the PLO.

Government policy towards the PLO, therefore, now coincides with the views which the Opposition has been putting for months.

. In one of my earliest speeches as Leader of the Opposition (on 21 May 1990 to the Biennial Conference of the Zionist Federation of Australia), I reaffirmed the Coalition's opposition to Ministerial contact with the PLO and our view that, until its actions matched its rhetoric, the PLO's status should not be elevated.

. At that time the Government was going in the opposite direction :

- on 29 May 1990, with the Government's approval, the PLO Representative in Australia was formally received by the Governor-General, the first time that this highest level of official reception had been given to the PLO in Australia.

: I pointed out on a number of occasions that such an upgrading in the PLO's status was totally unjustified and in a series of media releases and Parliamentary Questions I sought

(in vain) to get some kind of explanation from the Government for its change of policy

- in June 1990, the United States Administration broke off its dialogue with the PLO because of its link to acts of terrorism. But the Australian Government had no such misgivings about its own dialogue with the PLO

: on 22 August 1990 - even after the PLO's support for Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was well known - the Prime Minister went out of his way in the Parliament to state that his Government would maintain its high level dialogue with the


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It has taken six months worth of the PLO's discreditable role in the Gulf war to finally convince the Australian Government of the organisation's lack of credibility. Yet, for those prepared to look at the facts, and not be blinded by emotionalism, that fact has been obvious for some time.

The mood swings of Australia's PLO policy are symptomatic of a wider malaise in the Government's foreign policy. As on so many other international issues, the Government's policy on the PLO has swung around, with little decisive leadership, few

guiding principles and even less consistency.

On the PLO, the Government got it very wrong. It has moved belatedly to try and fix the position.

Without a Gulf war, the Government's high-level dialogue with the PLO would still be rolling along.