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Transcript 5665

STATEMENT TO THE PARLIAMENT ON THE COMMONWEALTH HEADS OF GOVERNMENT MEETING

Photo of Fraser, Malcolm

Fraser, Malcolm

Period of Service: 11/11/1975 to 11/03/1983

More information about Fraser, Malcolm on The National Archive website.

Release Date: 13/10/1981

Release Type: Statement in Parliament

Transcript ID: 5665

FOR MEDIA TUESDAY, OCTOBER 13 1981
STATEMENT TO THE PARLIAMENT ON THE
COMMONWEALTH HEADS OF GOVERNMENT MEETING
Mr Speaker, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting,
held in Melbourne and Canberra between 30 September and 7 Octobe;
was a success for Australia and the Commonwealth, and it can
be expected to have an influence on world discussions..
The meeting confounded the critics who had predicted that
differences of view would lead to division, and that irrelevant
issues would distract attention from the fundamental themes.
In fact, a spirit of compromise and practicality enabled 41
very disparate countries, most with strongly held views of
their own, to reach agreement on a range of issues, and indeed,*
to agree to act on many of them.
The Commonwealth is a remarkable international organisation
not only because its meetings are for Heads of Government
rather than for officials or Foreign Ministers, not only
because the meetings themselves occupy a period of time
which allows for thorough as well as wide-ranging deliberations,
not only because the membership-of the Commonwealth cuts across
some of the most significant lines of-division in the world,
and not only because the Commonwealth countries themselves
comprise above one quarter of the world's population.
The Leader of the Opposition has said that the sole common
link between the members of the Commonwealth is that they
are all former British colonies, but in addition to the
fact that we all also speak a common language, in addition
to the fact that we all, as President Kaundaof Zambia put it, gainec
our independence from the British using their language,
there is the further bond, again remarked on by President Kaunda,
of a similar legal and administrative background among
Commonwealth countries.
I-would add that in a world which is still unfortunately
marred by racialism, it is a truly satisfying experience to
be in and of a gathering which repudiates racialism not only
in words but by its nature. In the Commonwealth, brown, black
and white meet as equals and friends,' and as President Kaunda
put it, " if God had made people green I am sure they would be
represented in the Commonwealth as well".

So far as Australia itself is. concerned, the sudcess of the conferenc
must be measured not only in the fact that the issues we had
identified beforehand as central indeed turned out to be so,-
and not merely in the fact that our contributions to the
discussions on these central issues were successful in
advancing several initiatives regarding them. I believe
that we have emerged from the meeting with an enhanced
reputation as an active and concerned member of the
Commonwealth, as an enlightened and responsible middle power.
Earlier this year, the Leader of the Opposition, in discussing
the Australian Labor Party's foreign policy beliefs, said,
" Australia and Australians can achieve anything on their
own" Such words are not mere grandstanding, they are f ancif ul
and ill-considered, especially when he has no practical
proposals to help create more wealth or to improve the living
standards cif people in developing countries, or indeed to
advance the causes of peace and stability on any other
significant issues.
The Government's approach to its role in world affairs is
vastly different, for we recognise the contribution we can
make and the role we can play. We accept the responsibilities
of that role, and are prepared to take such steps as we can
towards helping to make the world a better and more secure
place for our children.
From the purely Australian point of view, a further gain
and success from the Commonwealth meeting has been that
our visitors were impressed by Australia as a friendly
and vital country with a great_ future. I want to pay
tribute to those people, for the most part ordinary Australians,
f rom right around the country but especially f rom Melbourne
and Canberra, who conveyed to all the visitors the
friendliness and confidence that the world now regards as
characteristic of Australia, aY1& who helped to make our
visitors ambassadors for Australia.
The tributes to Australia from the visitors will surely be
pleasing to all Members of the House, and indeed to all
Australians. Pierre Trudeau went so far as to say that the
century can be said to belong to Australia. President Kaunda
said that in the last few years his view of Australia has
changed from one of " a country where there was indifference
to suffering people of the rest of the world to one of
" decent human beings, an Australia with which we are very proud
to be associated". And Sir Dennis Hamilton, of the Commonwealth
Press Union., went out of his way # Lo~ say that " the sense of
self confidence of people ( in Australia) at every level
that they can tackle any problems is a bit of a refreshE~ r
and encouragement for some of us who have come from some
of the old countries".
I could instance many other tributes of a similar kind,
but these are representative, and give the House the flavour
of our visitors' impressions. And they show-that the Leader of the
opposition's view of the meeting, at least before it was held,
as " an extravagant indulgehce", reflected a quite distorted
idea of the impact which the meeting would have on the way in which
Australia is regarded in other parts of the world. ./ 3

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From the Commonwealth point of view, the success of the
Melbourne meeting can also be measured in several ways.
The vitality of the Commonwealth was evident in the fact
that three new members were present, and let me add that not
a single member of the meeting, in welcoming Zimbabwe, would
have found anything " quaint" or " ironical", to use the words
of the Leader of the Opposition, in the fact that Australia
played a role in the establishment by the Commonwealth at the
Lusaka meeting of the conditions in which Zimbabwe was able
to achieve independence.
The nature of the discussions between the Commonwealth
leaders in Melbourne and Canberra, the meeting of minds
that occurred, the understanding and friendships which
were created, was a further confirmation of the relevance
of the Commonwealth in a world in which divisions can too
easily become entrenched, and in which a needless lack of
understanding so often prevents the achievement of real
solutions. I believe that the success of the meeting for the
Commonwealth will also turn out to be a success so far as
the international community is concerned. The Commonwealth
is obviously not an organisation with the power to settle
major world issues, but between the extremes of either
achieving a dramatic conclusive impact which will turn
everything around, and of having no effect at all, there
is room for the kind of influence which the Commonwealth
can have, and which can be so important in achieving the
right outcome rather than the wrong one.
The Commonwealth role is to a considerable extent a matter
of helping, in an incremental fashion, to shape opinion one
way rather than the other, to change the balance of considerations
operating on those who have to make the big decisions, to ensure
that there are no miscalculations because strongly held views*-iehve
not been clearly heard. The Melbourne meeting sent out a
number of signals which, because of their timing and because
they represent the views of a significant group of leaders,
will register with other governments, which, indeed, are
already registering and having an impact. Strongly supportive
comments about the value of the Declaration and the Communique
such as that the Declaration appears to be a ' very significant
document which would no doubt be widely discussed', and that
both the Declaration and the Communique would be helpful in
setting the scene' for Cancun, have been received at many
of our missj~ ons.
The Melbourne Declaration and the Communique from the meeting
are complementary documents. The Melbourne Declaration is
a statement of resolve by 41 Heads of Government designed to
demand urgent action to alleviate the plight of hundreds of
millions of people living in absolute poverty, designed also
to point out the despair which these conditions engender, and.
the insecurity which can so easily be encouraged when such conditions
prevail. ./ 4

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Mr Speaker, when the House ponders the Melbourne Declaration
it might bear in mind the words of Pierre Trudeau at the
meeting that " history will judge this year as a watershed
in North/ South relations", and Mrs Gandhi's hope that the
voices of the countries of the Commonwealth will reach out
to Cancun.
The Comm unique addresses virtually every major issue facing
the world today, and it reaches conclusions and makes
recommendations concerning many of them and despite the
need for compromise to achieve maximum consensus, it says some
very pointed things. On the economic side, it addresses all
the main topics encompassed by the North/ South dialogue.
It expresses strong support for an early resumption of
global negotiations and seeks ways of improving the negotiating
process. It strongly reaffirms opposition to protectionism and
sets up an expert study group to examine the impact which
protectionism has on developing countries. It supports the
early establishment of an energy affiliate of the World
Bank and a number of other practical measures relating to energy
to be taken by the Commonwealth itself. It expands the
Commonwealth's capacity to assist the food needs of developing
Commonwealth members, supports increased food aid, improved
food security arrangements and increased assistance for
agricultural development. It reaffirms support for the
Common Fund and outlines practical measures to be taken
within the Commonwealth to assist commodity exporters.
And it makes a number of recommendations for an expansion
of the capacity of international financial institutions
to help developing countries.'
I should add that in addition to what is in the Communique,
Australia has taken a number of initiatives of its own'which
will support and supplement the Communique's contents and
general thrust. Among these are an increase in overseas
Development Assistance for the 1981/ 82 financial year by
$ 100 million or 18%, to bring the ratio of ODA to GDP up
from 0.43% to an estimated 0.45%. Australia's food aid programme
and assistance for agricultural development has been substantially
expanded. Food aid has been increased by 15% to $ 100 million
in 1981/ 82 allowing about 445,000 tonnes of grain to be given,-
up from 400,000 tonnes in 1980/ 81 and 225,000 tonnes only a
few years ago.
And Australia is more than satisfying its obligations under
world food programme targets. Australia has increased its
contribution to the international emergency food reserve from
30,000 tonnes to 45,000 tonnes. We are paying the freight on
an increasing proportion of our food aid, including on 80,000-
tonnes to Africa. Australia is establishing a centre for
international agricultural research, to mobilise Australian
agricultural expertise to address problems of importance to
developing countries. In addition, we are continuing to give
priority within our regular aid programme to agricultural
development.

On energy, Australia has pledged an additional $ 1 million
in Nairobi for assistance for new and renewable energy sources.
Australia has offered to make available to all Commonwealth
countries, information and experience through the Commonwealth
Regional Renewable Energy Resources Information System and also
to make available to Commonwealth countries an exhibition of
new and renewable energy technology which is being prepared
as part of the work of the CHOGRM Energy Group.
On commodity trade, Australia has signed the instrument
for ratification of the Common Fund Agreement and is making a
voluntary contribution of $ 5.5 million to its second account
( for the promotion of development, marketing and production).
. On trade, Australia has recently extended and liberalised
preferences of significant interest to developing countries
to the whole textiles, clothing and footwear area. Imports in 1977-78
accounted for 40% of the Australian market for textiles,. 20% for
clothing, and 28% for footwear. In addition a wide variety of products now
receive special preferences in the South Pacific trading region. Australia' s
continuing examination of protection and the IAC general reference were noted
and appreciated by Heads oT Government.
On the political side, there is in the Communique: a reaffirmation
of the Gleneagles Declaration; a strong statement on Namibia,
with agreement between the contact group, front line and other
members on the need for intensified efforts to seek settlement
on the basis of Resolution 435; on Poland, agreement that the
people of Poland should be left to determine their own destiny
free from foreign interference; on Afghanistan and Kampuchea,
strong agreement on the need for the withdrawal of foreign
troops; on Africa, the view that African states should be
able to pursue their own affairs without interference from
any source; on the Law of the Seaf, affirmation of the need
for a convention to be concluded speedily; on the South Pacific,
support for the call by the countries of the region for an
immediate end to nuclear testing, and a welcoming of the
decision by the South Pacific Forum to send a mission to
France to discuss the future of French territories in the Pacific.
There was also very informal discussion among some leaders on the
general question of re-admission to the Commonwealth. This is;
a new question which the Commonwealth has not had to consider
before, and government leaders will be keeping in touch on
the matter.
Mr Speaker, at the opening of the conference two weeks ago,
I spoke of the intractable nature of the problems on our
agenda and of the need, therefore, to think in terms of improvements
and progress rather than total solutions. I spoke of the need.
to define success in realistic terms. In those terms, which
are the only ones which can seriously be countenanced this
conference speaks for itself.
I want to make one comment about the security arrangements
for the conference, because they have attracted a good deal
of interest and attention, and the Leader of the opposition
actually described them as " somewhat ridiculous and, frankly,
frightening". The frightening thing is not the arrangements
that we made, but the fact that we live in a world in which
such arrangements are necessary. But the inconveniences were
miinimised, and I am sure that I speak for the vast majority of / 6

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Australians when I say, especially thinking of the assassinations
and attempted assassinations of world leaders which have
taken place this yea; that I am glad we took the precautions
we did, glad that so many leaders commented so favourably
on the arrangements we had made, and glad that the meeting
passed without any incidents occurring.
Mr Speaker, three years ago, and again seven months ago,
the Leader of the Opposition said that the Commonwealth is
an " anachronistic institution, a talk shop of dubious value
to Australia". I hope that the success of the Melbourne
meeting has changed his view, as it has undoubtedly convinced
countless Australians of the value of the Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth is an instrument which enables the leaders
of many countries, from many continents, to come together
as colleagues and friends to make a contribution to the
continuing process of resolving the world's problems.
That is what the meeting at Melbourne was all about.
o0o---

Transcript 5665