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Canberra May 24, 1988 - Australian government, trade with U.S. are topics

By Bob Van Leer

Plaque  (CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA, May 24, 1988) - Our group started the morning with a tour of the Canberra Times. The newspaper is in a new plant that includes a large conference room and, after the tour, we heard from two Australian cabinet ministers, the ministers of trade and defense.

   The working relationship be tween the newspapers and the government is closer than in the United States. At home we wouldn't expect to see Frank Carlucci, the U.S. secretary of defense, coming over to the Washington Post office to talk to a group of newspaper people. 

  Michael Duffey, the minister for trade, said the U.S. is one of Australia's major trading partners and the U.S. has a $2 billion per year surplus in trade with Australia, our second largest surplus. On the other hand, the U.S. took 11 percent of Australia's exports in 1987.

  Duffey is concerned with the new U.S. trade bill now up to Pres. Reagan for signature or veto. He said that the most objectionable features for Australia have been removed but Australia is concerned about being caught in the crossfire between the U.S. and the European Common Market. He said that the U.S. has to be the leader in the GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade) talks being held in Uruguay because there is no one else to lead.

  Kim Beasley, minister of defense, spoke to us after lunch. He said that Australia's defense strategy is defense in depth, by which he means that Australia plans to defeat any enemy in a zone 1000 miles offshore of Australia. Beasley is trying to establish a relationship between this military strategy and Australia's resources. He credits Australia's policy of self reliance to Pres. Nixon, who more or less forced it.

  Beasley said, "We're not consumers of American security." Australia's security treaty with the U.S. does not assume that a large number of Americans have to die. Australia's objective is to handle things by itself with decisions by the U.S. being easy ones. Australia needs and gets from the U.S. Intelligence, procurement and an "affordable self defense". Procurement of military supplies Australia pays for.

  The affordable self defense is that if Australia went to the position of an armed neutral state instead of cooperating with the U.S., Beasley estimates that the Australian defense budget could double. He said Australia is committed to the western alliance.

  Beasley said that what Australia gives is a great deal. Australia provides joint facilities with the U.S. that provide half of the warning time to the U.S. in event of a Russian attack. These facilities monitor implementation of treaties with Russia and provide a means of communicating with our missile submarines.

  Beasley said he sees no threat to Australia at the present time. But he, and others we talked to on this tour, remember how the U.S. came to the defense of Australia in World War II. A buildup of the Indian navy he doesn't consider a threat to Australia, but he said there has never been a powerful India before. China is also building up its navy and Japan now has the third largest defense spending in the western alliance. He said that within 15 years Australia will have to deal with forces it has not been used to dealing with.

  Our group went from the Canberra Times office to the U.S. Embassy for a meeting with Bill Lane, U.S. ambassador to Australia and long time publisher of Sunset Magazine. In past tours we have met with other U.S. ambassadors and usually it has been a formal, stiff situation. Lane, however, took us into his home and we had a very casual, friendly session. He said his mission is to strengthen the security alliance with Australia. A new generation is growing up without a memory of World Was II. Surveys done by the embassy show that over 50 percent of Australians of all ages believe in an alliance with the U.S. but of those under 40, the credibility of U.S. actions is declining. Lane said that real threats do not now exist in the South Pacific but this can't be taken for granted.

  He said there is a common thread tying together the disturbances in the Pacific. The coup in Fiji, where the minority Melanesians took power by armed force from an elected government dominated by Indians, who are the majority in Fiji, has had an influence. Anti-nuclear sentiment is a common element, but this is directed at French nuclear testing, not the U.S. A generational change is part of what is happening in the South Pacific also, he said.

  The last activity of the day was a tour of the new billion dollar Australia Parliament Building. It was dedicated May 9 by Queen Elizabeth of England, still the royal head of Australia. The building, eight years in construction, is not yet occupied. Parliament is closing out its last session in the old chambers. The new building is striking in architecture and uses acres of marble. It seems cold and sterile but this may well change when people move into the building.

  Last night there was an unpredicted windstorm that blew down a number of trees in the vicinity of the Parliament Building.

  Driving to our appointments this morning we passed flocks of galahs, (a pink and gray parrot) and sulpher-crested cockatoos.

  Tomorrow the day is to start with a tour of the Australian mint. Then our bus will take us south to Albury and we will be split up into small groups and spend the night on private Australian farms.

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