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Issue #1662      October 29, 2014

Whitlam on foreign policy

In a letter to PM Gough Whitlam, the Socialist Party of Australia (now the CPA) posed ten questions on the government’s foreign policy. The response which was received just weeks prior to Whitlam’s dismissal is republished here along with the Party’s letter.

(First published in The Socialist 22-10-1975.)

Prime Minister Gough Whitlam during a trip to China in 1973. Whitlam has his ear to part of the circular Echo Wall in the Temple of Heaven in Beijing.

The SPA letter

Dear Sir,

Recognising that the end of the war in Indochina was a defeat for the policy of foreign intervention and that this development is the occasion for a substantial review of Australia’s foreign policy, I wish to submit the following views to yourself and your Parliamentary colleagues.

We believe Australia’s foreign policy should be based on a declaration that our country will seek a peaceful world and will respect the right of all people to political and economic freedom and independence.

In practical terms we propose the following policies be adopted:

  1. A declaration that detente is the basis of Australia’s foreign policy and that Australia’s representatives will promote this policy in all ways possible, seeking to consolidate it and extend it to military disarmament.
  2. That the Australian Government renew support for a world disarmament conference which will provide for withdrawal of all military bases from Australian soil as part of a disarmament program.
  3. Development of a full program of aid to assist in the rebuilding of Indochina with immediate provision of food, medical supplies, clothing and building materials.
  4. Australia to initiate proposals for, and agreement between, all nations of the Pacific-Indian Ocean area to make the whole area a nuclear-free peace zone.
  5. Withdrawal from the SEATO and ANZUS Pacts (SEATO has been disbanded since the letter was sent ... Ed.) and their replacement by non-aggression or collective security pacts between all countries (excluding none) in the Asian region.
  6. The further extension of contacts (political, trade, cultural) with the socialist nations and the countries of the Third World.
  7. The Australian Government to make a call for the early reconvening of the Geneva Conference on the Middle East and that a settlement be sought on the basis of the full implementation of the UNO decisions of 1967 and 1973 which call for an Israeli withdrawal from all lands occupied in the 1967 war, respect for the right to existence of all States in the Middle East and restoration of the rights of the Palestinian people.
  8. A declaration of support for a meeting of the Heads of State of Europe to conclude the proposed European Collective Security Conference (since concluded ... Ed.).
  9. A call for all nations to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, ban all nuclear weapons and destroy all existing nuclear weapons stocks.

We believe that the adoption of these policies would open a new era of peace and progress for Australia, whereas, a policy based upon the preparation of a new war of intervention in Asia can only fail and lead to even greater disaster for all the peoples in our region.

Yours sincerely,

Peter Symon
General Secretary,
Socialist Party of Australia

Gough Whitlam’s reply

Dear Mr. Symon,

I refer to your letter of 12 May 1975, concerning Australia’s foreign policy. I have given close attention to your Party’s policy proposals and you may be interested in my comments below on each of them.

1. Detente

The Australian Government welcomes and is firmly committed to the concept of detente and actively seeks to encourage the Great Powers to work to achieve this. It would, however, be shortsighted to base foreign policy on one single tenet. Foreign policy must embrace a number of ideals, expectations and hopes, including of course support for detente.

The Government is also firmly committed to the objective of a reduction of armaments, both conventional and nuclear, and has sought to promote this in a number of ways. It has welcomed the talks on the limitation of strategic armaments between the United States and the Soviet Union, and has impressed upon, the two Superpowers the need to strive for more rapid progress towards nuclear disarmament.

2. World Disarmament Conference

The Australian Government supports in principle the concept of a World Disarmament Conference. As you are no doubt aware, in accordance with General Assembly Resolution 3183 (XXVIII), which was supported by Australia, a preparatory committee has been established to consider the question. So far the work of this committee has been rather disappointing, particularly as two of the nuclear powers have declined to participate.

In view of the protracted debates and discussions on disarmament which have gone on in various bodies of the United Nations over the years, it is essential that a great deal of preliminary work be done before a World Disarmament Conference is held. The active participation of all the nuclear powers in such a conference is also an essential prerequisite to its success.

On the question of the withdrawal of military bases from Australian soil as part of the disarmament program, I have stated the Government’s position a number of times. On April 3 1974, in answer to a question in the House of Representatives, I said:

“The Australian Government takes the attitude that there should not be foreign military bases, stations, installations in Australia. We honour agreements covering existing stations. We do not favour the extension or prolongation of any of those existing ones”.

3. Aid to Indo-China

The Australian Government has pledged, itself to give generous aid to Indo-China, and is in the process of consultations which would enable it to draw up a program. In the financial year 1974-75, as an initial response to immediate needs, Government aid to international organisations for humanitarian aid in Indo-China totalled $3,400,000.

4. Nuclear Free Peace Zones

In my address to the United Nations General Assembly last year I expressed the Governments view that the concept of nuclear-free zones was one that deserved the most serious exploration. As you will be aware, Australia has supported the concept of a Zone of Peace in the Indian Ocean as a long-term objective, and is an active participant in the 18-nation United Nations ad hoc Committee on the Indian Ocean. At the recent meeting of the South Pacific Forum, Australia joined its South Pacific neighbours in commending the idea of establishing a nuclear-free zone in the South Pacific.

So that all concerned may have a greater understanding of the problems associated with such zones, and to see how they might effectively supplement efforts to stem the proliferation of nuclear weapons, a 21-nation study group, of which Australia is a member, has been established under the auspices of the Conference of the Committee on Disarmament (CCD) to examine the concept of nuclear-free zones in all its aspects. This group’s deliberations will be relevant to the further consideration of nuclear-free zone proposals for the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific.

5. SEATO and ANZUS

The present Government has always been conscious of the deficiencies of the South East Asia Treaty Organisation (now disbanded ... Ed.), and soon after coming to office played a leading part in having its structure modified. The Government is continuing to examine the need for further changes. On the other hand, it is not contemplating withdrawal from the ANZUS Treaty.

The Government is naturally prepared at any time to examine any proposal for any form of international co-operation between countries in the Asian region which might serve a practical purpose in promoting peace and progress in the region. The Government has itself taken initiatives designed to assist fulfilling this purpose.

6. Socialist Countries and Third World

The Government believes in the universality of international relationships, regardless of ideological differences, and has actively pursued this course by, for example, establishing diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China, the German Democratic Republic, and the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam. It was also among the first countries to recognise the new government in Cambodia.

The Government is already actively pursuing a course of developing and expanding links in the political, trade, scientific and cultural fields with all countries. For example, during my visit to the Soviet Union in January this year, the first by an Australian Prime Minister, I signed two new agreements, one on Science and Technology, and one on Cultural Exchanges. I also discussed with President Tito and Prime Minister Bijedic of Yugoslavia, and, Mrs. Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka, Australia’s interest in the Third World, and expressed the Government’s desire to attend future meetings of the nonaligned group of countries, either as a guest or as an observer.

7. The Middle East

The Australian Government supports all peaceful moves, whether through a reconvened Geneva Conference, further bilateral negotiations, or other avenues, to bring about the earliest possible solution to the Middle East dispute. It supports implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967 which, among other things, calls for an Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories. It also supports the realisation of the national rights and aspirations of the Palestinian people, including their right to establish a State alongside Israel if they so choose.

8. European Security Conference

The Australian Government welcomes detente and any moves such as the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), which support international negotiation, conciliation, co-operation and peaceful development.

9. Nuclear Non-Proliferation

Australia has taken and continues to take a strong stand against the testing of nuclear weapons in all environments, and in this regard you will recall the action that the Government took against the Government of France in the International Court of Justice over the atmospheric testing of nuclear devices. At the 28th and 29th session of the United Nations General Assembly the Australian delegations played an active role in drafting resolutions condemning nuclear weapons testing and stressing the dangers associated with the proliferation of all nuclear explosive devices. The Government has firmly and consistently supported the achievement of a comprehensive test ban.

One of the first acts of the present Government on coming to power was to ratify the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This is the most important international instrument in existence to control nuclear proliferation and the Government believes that support for the principles of the Treaty should be the cornerstone of all international endeavour towards this objective.

Australia’s contribution to the successful outcome of the recent NPT Review Conference was recognised by all depositary powers and other participants as significant, responsible and constructive.

Yours sincerely,

E.G. Whitlam

Next article – India: Forests and tigers vs coal mines

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