Domestic Situation in Australia
The Prime Minister said that he wished to explain something of the electoral situation in Australia. Since last April there had been a new feature in internal politics in Australia. Every six months both Houses of Parliament have to vote supply to the government enabling it to expend money and to collect taxes. For the first time since federation the Senate had, in April, refused to vote supply. This had forced an election which the Labor Party had won though it failed to win control of the Senate. Up until April it had been the rule that the House of Representatives had been elected to government for three years. It was now possible that at any time a hostile Senate could refuse to vote supply to the government and thereby force an election.
Such a challenge could come in any November or May. Such an eventuality was not likely but it could happen. No one could tell who would win a future election. In the May elections the opposition had concentrated on the problem of inflation but the Labor Party had still won. The Prime Minister expected that in any future election the Labor Party could still win. If, however, the Labor Party were to lose a future election the Foreign Minister would be Mr Peacock. His attitudes on foreign policy would be very similar to those of the Labor Party. The Prime Minister commented that since the 1972 elections the Liberal Party in opposition had changed their attitudes on foreign policy and had accepted changes made by the Labor Party. He said that Mr Peacock was one of the people in the opposition respected by his own party because of his views on foreign policy.
The Prime Minister said that some Indonesian officials might speculate that there had been a change in Labor Party attitudes because of the replacement of Mr Barnard as Deputy Prime Minister by Dr Cairns. Since the May elections there had also been reports in Australian newspapers that he, the Prime Minister, was about to be displaced or was about to resign. The Prime Minister said there was no chance at all of his being displaced. Nor did he intend to resign. Dr Cairns was a more forceful and effective figure in the public arena, in Parliament and in the Party. Mr Barnard had always been a very loyal supporter, whereas six years ago Dr Cairns had been a rival. The situation had changed since. The Prime Minister said that he believed that Dr Cairns was doing a good job and he could find no fault with him. He suggested that the President and his ministers should see him if the opportunity arose.
The Prime Minister said that the Labor Government since coming to office had placed considerable importance on Indonesia. Previous Liberal Governments had done so too, but the Labor Government had been much more outspoken and emphatic in recognising the importance to Australia of Indonesia. The Prime Minister said that he believed there was much at stake in relations between Australia and Indonesia, but public opinion in Australia was also important. If the public in Australia did not like developments in Indonesia they tended to lay the blame on the Australian Government. The Prime Minister mentioned the case of Portuguese Timor and said that the successful incorporation of the province in Indonesia would, from the Australian point of view, depend on whether the public was satisfied that the people of the province had joined Indonesia happily and willingly.
He noted that in the discussions earlier in the morning the President had indicated that Indonesia wished Australia to continue to extend economic and defence aid. He said that this was certainly the wish of the Australian Government. So far there had been little opposition within the Parliament or within the Labor Party to these policies, but from time to time developments within Indonesia would continue to have repercussions within Australia.
The Prime Minister said that during his meeting with President Soeharto in 1973 he had said that if the Australian Government ever had anything to say about domestic developments in Indonesia, the Government would convey its views through official channels. There might, however, be individuals in the Labor Party or in the trade unions, which in the main supported the Labor Party, who criticised the Indonesian Government. Such criticism could have an effect on Australia/Indonesia relations. The Prime Minister instanced the effect on Australia's relations with Fiji and Singapore of action taken against these countries by the Seamen's Union in Australia. The Prime Minister said he realised and believed that such action interfered in the domestic jurisdiction of Indonesia and it would be offensive to attempt to advise another government about its own internal affairs or to demand changes in domestic policy. Indeed, Indonesia had shown restraint in not commenting on domestic policies in Australia which might have been offensive to it.
The Prime Minister said that the principal problem he was referring to was political detainees. There was concern about those detained after the 1965 coup and those detained since the January rioting in Jakarta. The major problem, particularly with those detained in January, was that many of the detainees were well-known to some Australians.
President Soeharto thanked the Prime Minister for his explanation of domestic developments in Australia and of the pressures on the Australian Government in relation to detainees in Indonesia. He said that he understood that those in Australia concerned about detainees called upon the Australian Government to take up their cases. Indonesia understood that there were misgivings in other countries about developments in Indonesia and that there were those who wanted to defend the detainees. The Indonesian Government understood that some people within Indonesia were sending reports critical of the government outside the country to likeminded individuals overseas. He said that those who were doubtful about Indonesia should come and see the situation for themselves.2
[matter omitted][NAA: A10463, 801/13/1111, iii)