When I look back on my public life the role as Australia's first Minister of Asian Relations and Trade stands out as a high water mark almost on a par with being elected Chief Minister of the Northern Territory. When I was elected as the Parliamentary leader I recall a veil of sadness in the knowledge that I would have to pass on the ministerial baton. It would have been irresponsible to try and retain the portfolio - my job as head of Government would have been compromised. To be effective the Minister for Asian Relations and Trade must be regularly off shore. I knew as Chief Minister I would still have a place on the regional stage but it was never going to be the same. Marshall Perron's visionary decision to create the Ministry raised a few eyebrows around Australia but not in the region - they loved it. We were showing them respect and they told me so.
In 1993 during the debate over the launch of the ABC International Television Service by the Keating Government the NT News led with a story:
‘The ABC can do more for our thrust into Asia than 1000 Shane Stones or Marshall Perrons’.
There was a very colourful and at times, intense debate in the Assembly over the launch of the ABC foray into Asia.1 History now records that the ABC did not live up to the lofty expectations of the time. A more recent attempt has proved an equally dismal failure.2
The story of the Northern Territory’s (NT) engagement with the region pre-dates Shane Stone, Marshall Perron and the Country Liberal Party (CLP). It begins centuries earlier with the Macassan fishermen from South Sulawesi sailing south to trade trepang (sea slug) with the local indigenous people. Aboriginal people were the pioneers in the trade relationship. Others may have come from the region to Australia - many later made such a claim including the Chinese. For as long as I can remember the Macassan connection has been held up as ‘the light on the hill’ when it came to telling our story. Steve Hatton, as Chief Minister and later Industry Minister, was a great teller of the story. Working at Gove before entering Territory politics he was across the history. The Yolngu people of Arnhem Land shared many words with the Macassans and they had become part of their folklore. The cultural imprint is evidenced in rock art, language, ceremony and cuisine.
The contemporary story of engagement of the region by successive administrations dating from self-Government starts with the the portfolios of Education, Mines and Energy, Primary Industries and Industries and Development. In time, the Department of Industry became the lead agency and in 1993 Chief Minister Perron took the engagement to a new level with the appointment of a Minister for Asian Relations and Trade. To put my story into context, the starting point for me is my role as Minister for Industries and Development. On the way, I touch on a number of related issues before concluding on my term as the first Minister for Asian Relations and Trade.
The Industries and Development portfolio began with the Fifth Perron Ministry, 30 November 1992 to 16 September 1993 through the sixth Perron Ministry, 16 September 1998 to 14 June 1994; the seventh Perron Ministry, 15 June 1994 to 17 July 1994, and then; the eighth Perron Ministry, 18 July 1994 to 25 May 1995. It became part of the first Stone Ministry from 26 May to 30 June 1995.
My appointment as Minister for Industries and Development mirrored my appointment as Minister for Asian Relations and Trade. Under the Administrative Arrangements, the Department of Industries and Development serviced both Ministries. By reason of the unsophisticated profile of the NT economy, emphasis was on building business among our near neighbours and on our capacity at home to make the most of regional opportunities. There were overlapping Ministries such as Mines and Energy, and Primary Industries and Fisheries. The theory was that they would not intrude past the ‘farm gate’ but this was not always workable.
Prime Minister Howard summed up my approach thus:3
‘’Shane Stone….has been a very forceful advocate for the proposition that for the Territory to survive and grow and prosper it must increasingly draw up its own reserves and increasingly draw upon its great entrepreneurial skills’’.
Howard went onto make a number of observations including about the railway which I have referred to in the chapter ‘the Chief’. In a nutshell, we needed to grow our private sector; importantly we needed to grow their capacity and underpin business with the necessary infrastructure. This was a great challenge and remains so to this day hampered largely by slow population growth.
Certain functions such as the Industrial Supplies Office and Tender Board were clearly part of the domestic portfolio as were the Trade Development Zone and industry grants. There was a great deal of commonality however one morphed into the other depending on the focus at the time.
Lyal Macintosh, a former Westpac Executive recruited by Marshall Perron, was Secretary of both departments. He brought a valuable and informed private sector perspective to the role. Regrettably, he fell victim to the Burke Government on my departure. The emphasis of the portfolio was on working with industry and trade groups to build capacity and an occasional intervention by Government into the private sector to rescue and support Territory business.
It’s a fine line between promoting industry and interfering. We didn’t always get it right and, at times we were criticised for ‘trying to pick winners’. Our political opponents were always quick to condemn our involvement in projects such as the Sheratons, Trade Development Zone (TDZ) and Dalway Joinery, however, unintended consequences to one side we were having a swing which is always preferable to sitting on your hands doing nothing. During the course of 1992 I had a very public spat with Barry Coulter over the Dalway losses. It was a ham-fisted intervention by me and one I came to regret. As I was to find over time sometimes Government have to try. The current debate over the car industry and John Howard’s intervention on the fuel excise are examples. There have been numerous other such interventions on both sides of politics where Government has tried to pick winners, save industries and interfere in market forces. Easy for the commentators to berate and criticize but they are never in the front line dealing with the human consequences; politicians should be foremost about people. Freezing electricity prices rates among the worst of interventions. If only the politicians understood the economic impact of messing with power prices (tariffs).4
On another front I make no apologies for the very aggressive way I promoted NT business. We lived in a global economy and, all other things being equal, open competition was good for the private sector but ‘all other things’ were not equal. Large conglomerates from interstate sweeping into the NT had greater economic muscle than the locals to their detriment. In my view the Tender Board shouldn’t have to accept the lowest tender if it came down to a NT firm missing out by a small margin. The ISO had a clear mandate to demand value and, on Alan Days watch, they did. Lowest price doesn’t always represent best value; I have learned that lesson in the private sector.5
As for the so-called ‘Silver circle’ it didn’t exist in the way the Australian Labor Party (ALP) sought to portray; it was all part of the ALP’s mythology which they translated into their own post 2001. There was no preferred group of NT business people – all were preferred. The only criteria in play were that they all did business in the NT and employed locals. Critics clamoured that there was no probity; deals were done on the back of a cigarette packet with a handshake to keep construction moving. Guilty as charged. Later, as Chief Minister, I committed various development sites in and around Darwin subject to development covenants to keep the economy primed. Development leases were converted to freehold subject to performance. Where do people think most of the development and jobs came from?
When Denis Burke addressed his first Chamber of Commerce meeting he gave a commitment that the ‘silver circle’ was at an end, consigned to the rubbish bin of Territory. I was later asked about his comments. He clearly didn’t understand he was actually addressing the so called ‘silver circle’ – it was the Territory business community. I unashamedly favoured and promoted Territory business ahead of interstate business at every opportunity. Everingham, Perron and I broadly shared the same sentiment. When I retired in 1999 the NT News editorialised:6
“Stone’s pursuit of a vigorous pro-development agenda, even in the face of increasing calls for greater transparency in the Government’s dealings with business, has been fundamental to the Territory’s overall economic success”.
Call me non-competitive but all day every day my focus was on supporting Territory business. For example, as long as Western Australia (WA) demanded Territory electricians travel to Perth to be licensed before they could take a job at Kununurra I ‘sandbagged’ the locals. There was a fair bit of mythology thrown in about the ‘silver circle’ largely by the Labor Party and commercial competitors aggrieved by missing a deal because they were ‘cheaper’. If you believed them, certain families got the inside run on every project. What rankles me are those in the Country Liberal Party (CLP) who still repeat the mythology.
Under the Martin and Henderson ALP Governments, being from interstate was almost a prerequisite to winning a Government tender, not that we ever knew too much detail since exemptions from the Tender Board were the order rather, than the exception of the day. What became evident to me was that the firms and businesses that cuddled up to Labor interstate were encouraged to come to the NT. They would prove to be reliable and consistent donors to Territory and Federal Labor. Territory businesses that had long standing affiliations with the CLP were taught the new order. Many fell into line as the returns to the Australian Electoral Commission show. As an aside, a number would say:
'’You have to deal with and support the Government of the day, we had no choice’’.
I don’t accept that line; a number of Territory business people stayed loyal to the CLP and refused to underwrite donations to the ALP. Worse still those who had given commitments to support the CLP dating from Perron, and my time, developed selective amnesia with the election of the Martin Government.
I worked consciously hard to promote women in business. The Business Women’s Consultative Council was an example of capacity building intended to equip Territory women to make their way in the male dominated NT business community. I detail in the chapter ‘the Chief’ under Women’s Policy the initiatives I championed in support of Territory women.
The portfolio of Minister for Asian Relations and Trade commenced in the fifth Perron Ministry, 30 November 1992 to 15 September 1993; the sixth Perron Ministry, 16 September to 14 June 1994; the seventh Perron Ministry, 15 June to 17 July 1994, and; eighth Perron Ministry, 18 July 1994 to 25 May 1995. It was part of the first Stone Ministry from 26 May to 30 June 1995.
I served as Minister for Asian Relations and Trade for just on 3 years and would later continue to advance the objectives of the portfolio as Chief Minister.
Over the decades, I have been at the forefront of major initiatives to assist Australia in securing its regional influence notwithstanding that Asia, its proximity and importance to Australia, is regularly ‘rediscovered’ by Federal Governments devoid of a ‘corporate history’ of Asian engagement.
It was for example in the NT Legislative Assembly in 1995 that the first Asian Head of State was invited to address an Australian Parliament long before the Commonwealth Parliament decided that there was merit in such invitations.7 Such was the focus and commitment of the Australia’s Northern Territory to engage the region. What follows is an overview of my activities in the region as both Minister and Chief Minister. It is not practical to separate the two as they overlapped and were continuous.
For over a 40 year period, dating from my student days, and long before it became fashionable in some parts of Australia, I had committed to Australia’s engagement of the Asia Pacific. As an undergraduate student at the Australian National University (ANU), where I had achieved High Distinction in Contemporary Chinese Studies, I was captivated by the region to our north. As a resident tutor at John XXIII College ANU, and then as Director of Studies at International House, University of Melbourne, I was very proactive in engaging with Asian students. I brought them together with Australian students in cultural, education and sporting activities. In my maiden Speech in December 1990 I flagged:8
‘’my earnest hope that my time in this House will coincide with a new sense of enthusiasm and spirit in the Territory such as that experienced by our pioneers, and the realisation of our destiny in the Asia-Pacific region’’.
I was well and truly on board when Marshall Perron conceived the novel approach of appointing Australia’s first ever Minister for Asian Relations and Trade and to my delight that was me. This represented a very high point in my ministerial career; my only disappointment when elected Chief Minister was the knowledge that I would have to give the portfolio up.
I became the Northern Territory’s first Minister for Asian Relations and Trade in the Perron Government. I was entrusted with the responsibility to forge closer relations between the Territory and the region – cultural, sporting and commercial. From there, I built an extensive network through South East Asia and North Asia capitalising on the efforts of previous CLP Governments and Ministers who had blazed a trail through the region dating from self-Government. The Department of Asian Relations and Trade led by Lyal McIntosh9 became a hub of commercial enterprise focused on the Asia Pacific region.
‘Darwin the Gateway to Asia’ was the trademark of the engagement.
Over time, Lyal built a capable team around him to support this important work. They included the late Nathan Sammy.10 John McCue, Patrick Marwick-Smith, Neil Almond, Ross Travena, Carolyn Blanchett and Peter Plummer. My political opponents have, at various times, sought to diminish this effort. It is a matter of regret our engagement was not above Party politics. Some in the CLP have sought to defend the legacy from Opposition but to be fair, that was a herculean task particularly when the CLP was reduced to a rump in the Assembly. Also it doesn’t help when the CLP membership and newer members are not familiar with what came before.
Unlike the Labor Party, we on the conservative side have not developed a narrative that includes our history, achievements and folklore. Labor proudly claim the start of the China Australia bilateral relationship but how many Territorians and Australians know that the Territory played an important role in working with successive Australian Governments dating from 1974 in opening the door to ASEAN. Australia was the first ASEAN dialogue partner and I was delighted to be invited to be a key note speaker and panellist at the 40th Anniversary Conference in Adelaide on 12 February 2014 in front of the Assembled Ambassadors and High Commissioners from ASEAN member countries including Australia’s resident Ambassador to ASEAN. The event was organised by the Council for International Trade and Commerce SA INC (CITCSA)11 I opened my speech with the words:
'’Good morning, my name is Shane, I am from Darwin, the most cosmopolitan city in Australia and the Gateway to Asia’’
When Prime Minister Hawke and Gareth Evans created APEC, the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum in late 1989 they did so off the back of the unrelenting efforts of State Governments including the NT, Queensland (QLD) and WA. In a similar vein, how many Australians truly understand the inter-generational bilateral relationship between Indonesia and the NT and how Australia has been able to ‘piggy back’ of that unique relationship?
When Prime Minister Gillard announced her Asian White Paper (Australia in the Asian Century) I thought to myself, here we go again. When Bob Carr burst back onto the scene as Foreign Minister with his Asia focus I wondered why, as Premier of New South Wales, he had been at times missing in action when WA, NT and QLD Governments were taking up the challenge of the Keating Government to engage. NSW, the largest economy in Australia, and yet, largely on Carr’s watch, was not in the game.
I read the paper, ‘Australia in the Asian Century Towards 2025 - Indonesia Country Strategy’.12 I was disappointed by its superficiality, its failure to record those early years of Asian engagement, to acknowledge what others had done from both sides of politics. Our Territory efforts were portrayed and viewed through the prism of Sister City relationships, trade delegations and the Darwin Ambon yacht race. There is no evidence of research into the historical depth of the intergovernmental relationships that were built over years of engagement with Asia, spearheaded in most cases by innovation, effort and hard work by the Northern Territory and State Governments. How dismissive of all the early pioneers of Asian engagement - not just in recent years. Reading the following I was left shaking my head:
'’State and territory governments have made significant forays into Indonesia in recent years. The Victorian Premier’s ‘super trade mission’ to Indonesia in mid-2013 included senior cabinet members, officials and nearly 300 business representatives . The Queensland Government announced in June 2013 that it will soon open a trade and investment office in Jakarta. Similarly, other state and territory governments are actively looking at opportunities in Indonesia. Australia and Indonesia have various sister state and city arrangements. The Western Australia-East Java and Queensland-Central Java sister-state, and the Darwin-Ambon sister-city relationships are good examples of regional government relationships. These involve economic, cultural and sporting exchanges, visits and links, including the annual Darwin to Ambon Yacht Race’’.
We were running and administering Canberra’s AusAID programmes for decades. Our service delivery was legendary. We were Canberra’s point of reference in the region. I wonder in desperation at the knowledge base and capacity of the people who produce such distorted and limited accounts of history. After all, this document is supposed to be a framework for the future: the document that inspires our approach towards our Asian neighbours and, most of all a strategy that will unleash Australian potential in the region. Unintended or not, it showcases mediocrity.
Perhaps it reflects a lack of corporate memory in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and AusAID, or worse, a deliberate attempt to promote Canberra and airbrush our achievements over the decades. Sadly, we have contributed to this parlous state of affairs by not telling our story and defending our legacy of achievements.
I felt obliged to search out from my speeches, writings and Parliamentary Debates where I best encapsulated what we Territorians had contributed. I consider my speech Address-in-Reply13 following the 1994 General Election the most comprehensive account of the framework in which we worked punctuated by real live examples of business success. To put the speech in context I made the following observations:
“The 20th century holds encouraging prospects for the Territory. So promising are the prospects that this nation’s entire international outlook has changed direction. Australia is embracing the region to the north as it has never done before. The Australian business community is endeavouring to understand, analyse and take up Asian market opportunities. The new direction is being pursued with enthusiasm by governments at all levels. Sadly, despite much of what has been written and said about Asia, too few people know much about Asia, let alone the marketplace. In fact, to refer to the region as ‘Asia’ is simply to use a generic term. The region is not homogenous in any sense of the word. As the Northern Territory’s Minister for Asian Relations and Trade, I spend much of my time in the region. My views are as much shaped by my current responsibilities as they are from 20 years of dealing in the region. From this experience, I have been able to make a number of observations. Largely, these observations shape existing government policy that I implement’’.
‘’The first observation is that the reality of Asia is that Australia is a part of it, but we are not Asians and should not try to pretend that we are. Australia is instilled with western values predominantly and the ethos of our community is still rooted firmly in a Judeo-Christian tradition. Notwithstanding that, we as a nation must demonstrate a commitment to the region and prove that we are proud to be part of it. We have yet to achieve, however, the degree of consciousness that is to be found among ASEAN countries. It is one thing to embrace Asia, but it is yet another thing to be embraced’’.
‘’The second observation is that, to succeed offshore, we need to develop a commercial culture that understands and adapts to the way people do business in the region. This varies dramatically from country to country. There are as many differences between Asian countries as there are, say, between Australia and Indonesia. To name but a few, these differences include systems of government, the local law, religion and relative economic prosperity. Part of the commercial culture includes the effective use of language and cultural skills that can only enhance the overall competitiveness of Australians in regional markets’’.
‘’The third observation is that the future of Australia is linked to Asia and, conversely, Australia will be critical to the region’s sustained success. After Japan and China, Australia is the largest economy in the region. Our advanced industrial, scientific and technological capabilities make us natural partners for neighbours wishing to increase their value-added and technology-based manufacturing output. We need to make long-term commitments and investment in each other’s countries. Australia has one of the fastest growth rates in the developed world and is in the world’s fastest growth region’’.
‘’The fourth observation is that the development of an export culture and realisation of opportunities in the region is dependent largely on a partnership between the private and public sectors. That partnership should be complementary and guided by the principle that companies trade, governments do not. In my view, the role of government in Australia in the Asian-Australian equation can be summarised simply in 6 points: deregulation of the marketplace to the extent that trade is facilitated rather than hindered; providing a skilled work force; helping industry to build on existing strengths; promoting policy that enhances productivity; providing relevant infrastructure such as roads, ports, rail and communications; and providing up-to-date information that is accessible to business’’.
In drawing the threads together by way of a summary I observed the following:
‘’To summarise, we should develop a consciousness of the region, understand the commercial cultures of the region, and not underestimate what we Australians bring to the region. The guiding principle is that companies trade, government do not. Trying to climb through that window of opportunity to make a dollar in Asia is not without its pitfalls. For some, the window has turned out to be a pathway to disaster. When one enters the region to do business, one must remember that one is entering into a highly competitive arena, jostling for market position. It requires a great deal of patience and perseverance and, not surprisingly, a good sense of humour. Those who have succeeded in the region have gone through a steep learning curve. The role of governments in the region must never be underestimated. There are many tiers of government, all with varying degrees of authority. It can be quite confusing as to whether one is dealing with a mayor who has real authority, a provincial governor who may or may not be able to override a national or state minister or, for that matter, a minister who must refer all decisions to a president or prime minister. One should never assume that the decision-making process resembles that in Australia in any way, shape or form. As I said, to climb through the window of opportunity is to enter into a highly-competitive arena’’.
‘’The Colombo Plan did an enormous amount to generate goodwill towards Australia from our nearest South-East Asian neighbours, and our continuing aid programs continue to build on that goodwill. We remain a major donor nation in the region and our aid is largely untied - that is, there are few preconditions or trade-offs, which is greatly appreciated by recipient nations. One should never lose sight of the fact that dealing in the region successfully is often determined by having established one’s bona fides as a friend and as someone who can be trusted. Much of the success in Asia by Australians has been built over generations and is not based only on short excursions into the region. In the Territory’s case, shared circumstances have done much to bind our peoples over time. Those shared circumstances include a similar geography, climate, remoteness from the national capital, together with a frontier perspective. At last year’s Darwin Trade Expo, some 450 Indonesian and East Malaysian participants came by air and sea. They came because of the relationship nurtured over some 20 years. This year, well over 500 participants from Indonesia, Brunei, East Malaysia, the Indonesian provinces, Hong Kong and the Philippines took part in Expo ‘94. More than ever before, their presence reflected the expanding links being forged between the Territory, its dedicated business sector and neighbouring countries. The mutual desire to expand trade and other links is confirmed. Perseverance, patience and a willingness to understand the cultural differences of the region have gained the Territory respect and credibility with our neighbours. Territorians should be proud that the determination to develop closer trade and cultural links with the region is recognised now as one of the right ways to go. The bilateral agreements, which have been entered into already between Australia’s Northern Territory and our nearest neighbours have proved invaluable vehicles to promote trade in the region. The Memorandum of Understanding signed between the national government of Indonesia and the Northern Territory government is one such example. There is an opportunity to be part of the East Asian Growth Area (EAGA). Growth triangles have emerged all over Asia as countries forge economic alliances to boost foreign investment flows and the overall competitiveness of the region’’.
'’The EAGA subregion comprises Brunei, Sabah and Sarawak in Malaysia, Mindanao in the Philippines, and a number of the provinces in Eastern Indonesia. The Territory’s participation in EAGA has been given strong support by Australia’s Prime Minister, Minister for Foreign Affairs and, most recently, Minister for Trade. Developing Australia’s trade in the region is a shared objective of the federal Labor government and the Territory Country Liberal Party government. The opportunities are there, but they need to be realised by the private sector. There are many companies that would like to access the marketplaces of our Asian neighbours, but the simple fact is that many do not know how to. Be assured that many Asian business people are equally intimidated by Australia. This may well be the last chance in the foreseeable future for Australia to reorientate its strategic approach to capture future investment opportunities. Australia has not shared fully in the period of South-East Asia’s most rapid growth. After a decade of decline in the 1980s, the 1990s are seeing new Australian interest in investment in the region. The Departments of Foreign Affairs and Trade figures reveal that Australia’s investment in South-East Asia recorded an encouraging 25 percent increase in 1992. Australian companies in tune with current economic realities now realise the potential of Asia. They have turned away from the policies of the 1980s, which focused on Britain, Europe and North America, and are shifting resources to Asia. The emergence of APEC represents a new and exciting vehicle for expanding growth in the Asia-Pacific region. It brings together 18 economies from around the Pacific, 14 of which are in Asia. APEC has the objective of continuing the process of freeing up trade and investment flow procedures that will make trade easier and simpler for Australia. APEC will act as a major stimulus for growth and commercial liberalisation among countries of the region - importantly, those which make up the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN)’’.
My contribution to the debate gave many examples of Territory business succeeding in the region. As important as the Darwin Ambon Yacht Race was in promoting cultural understanding and fraternal ties it was only the tip of the iceberg. I recommend the speech to those who would like to know and understand more about the Territory’s engagement with the region during another era.
As DFAT Secretary, Philip Flood observed, despite our size, we were way ahead of the game in the Territory:14
‘punching above our weight’
This assessment was shared by successive Federal Governments and, back then, endorsed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Some of our regional activity led Australia. Speaking in Darwin on 26 February 1998, Prime Minister John Howard observed:15
‘’You also have a remarkable understanding of just where in the world Australia and the Northern Territory really is. When I went into the Chief Minister’s office this afternoon he showed me the map of the region and my Chief of Staff Arthur Sinodinos said to me ‘’It’s very much a mission statement’’. And I think that’s true and it’s a reminder that the survival of the Northern Territory depends very much on the way it relates to the Nations of South East Asia and particularly to Indonesia. And it’s very important that all Australians understand what is now going on inside our nearest neighbour, one of the most populous nations in the world and country whose future and our future, the Australian Nation, is very much bound up with us’’.
Despite the recent lapse of corporate memory, when I look back on the strength of our regional engagement, I am pleased to say, in those days we had strong support from the Federal Government - Labor and the Coalition. We were seen as team players notwithstanding the odd irritation from Gareth Evans when he would go somewhere new and remote in Asia only to be asked if he had met me. I saw the funny side of that even if he didn’t. The map of the NT and the region on the walls of Ministers offices was both Mission Statement and a reminder of who we were and what we achieved. I have been credited with this initiative but it’s not mine – that belongs to Marshall Perron and, before him, the very innovative, interactive display in the Department of Industries and Development conceived by Steve Hatton.
Steve Hatton was very proud of his electronic regional map which highlighted the Northern Territory’s position relative to the region, I thought it a very effective aid to put in perspective our regional positioning. Visitors from overseas and interstate would marvel at our depiction of the NT as the launching pad into Asia. I have lost count of the number of people who have asked where they might get such a map. It was often the first port of call for officials from regional governments, including parliamentarians. I recall the sheer delight expressed by a group of visiting parliamentarians from Laos when they were introduced to the display on their arrival in Darwin. Their visit to the Territory was made possible through a program undertaken to observe the process and principles of our system of Territory Local Government. On that occasion, the Territory Government formed a partnership with the ANU’s North Australian Research Unit to assist with the logistics and resources required for officials taking part in the program.
Judging from the reaction of the Laotians, the time they spent in the Territory was a roaring success. It began with the electronic regional map. It throws light on an important, but often unrecognised, dimension of our relationship with Asia: the diversity, and the effectiveness of our institutions of Government in Australia. Not least, particularly in the Territory, the challenges facing Governments providing services to people in vast regions of the country, challenges that prove difficult and sometimes impossible for Governments in parts of the Asian region.
When I left Office Eric Poole kindly gave me a very large framed version of the map which hangs in my Darwin boardroom as a reminder of another time, an era overlooked and forgotten. It was a very thoughtful gesture by Eric. Unfortunately, he was dismissed from Cabinet because of his loyalty to me - an act of political bastardry.16
School and teacher exchanges with Indonesia were regular and frequent; Indonesian was adopted as a second language in the Northern Territory School curriculum. As a Minister I set about learning Indonesian by way of example as did a number of my Cabinet colleagues. In my first ministerial role of Education and Arts I had enthusiastically promoted an Asian languages program for Northern Territory public servants – Cultures and Languages of Asia for Specific Purposes (CLASP).17 CLASP was established in 1989 by Education Minister Tom Harris to enable Northern Territory public servants to become ‘Asia-literate’ and thereby support the Territory government’s trade, education, training, and sporting initiatives in the SE Asian region.
The Northern Territory Education Department had oversight of the CLASP program. Indonesian was by far the most sought-after language. Three 100 hour courses were developed at beginner, intermediate and advanced levels. A popular feature of the Indonesian course was the final week of communicative activities which were carried out in Indonesia (Kupang, Ujung Pandang and Bali). Anecdotal and observational evidence indicated that course graduates made good use of their linguistic skills and cultural understandings in their subsequent business or departmental initiatives in Indonesia. Not only was the linguistic proficiency of course participants developed, but also their cultural understandings, to enable them to function effectively, confidently and comfortably in an Asian environment. In addition to the 100 hour intensive courses CLASP also prepared and delivered ‘tailor-made’ short courses and seminar sessions to a variety of client groups.
All NT public servants were urged by their departments to undertake CLASP courses and Asian skills were deemed necessary when applying for certain positions in the NTPS. The departments which made most use of CLASP courses were Asian Relations and Trade, Education and Health – all were at the front-line of engagement of the region. Hundreds of NT and Commonwealth public servants enrolled in CLASP courses. For a decade the CLASP program stood as a unique testimony to the commitment of the Territory Government in forging better social, educational, trade and sporting links with Australia’s nearest Asian neighbours.
Later, as Minister for Education and Training, I strongly endorsed and funded Asian languages in NT schools. Student and school exchanges between the NT and Indonesia were encouraged and, as Managers of IATVEP18 in the Eastern Provinces on behalf of AusAID,19 complementary school programs in the Northern Territory broadened and strengthened the bilateral relationship. Many of the Indonesian programs were leveraged off the historic Memorandum of Association between the Republic of Indonesia and the Northern Territory.20
When I became Chief Minister, I kept up my interest in education in the region and initiated a range of opportunities and sponsored students and teachers to travel to the Territory to complete their schooling, training and undertake tertiary studies before returning to their home countries. I believed that such initiatives were critically important in building capacity and the skills base in developing countries in the region which in turn would benefit the NT. Other government-funded initiatives relating to Indonesia included the Arafura Youth Games (as distinct from the Arafura Games). Cultural exchanges, particularly with Indonesia, Malaysia and China were promoted and underwritten by the Territory Government and major sporting events such as the Arafura Games became a focal point of the region.
The Territory was also at the forefront of other educational activity in the region. SEAPREAMS (SE Asia and Pacific Region Educational Administrators and Managers Symposium) Conference was an NT initiative dating from Geoff Spring to develop synergies between the NT and our Asian neighbours . The 1998 Conference was Chaired by Department Secretary Wal Czernezkyi. The NT had been the permanent Chair of this group since it’s inception. The last SEAPREAMS conference was held in Taipei on 13 December 1999. Thereafter the NT’s commitment to SEAPREAMS was dumped by the Burke Government.
At times, when relations between the Commonwealth Government and some of our near neighbours were ‘tested’ I was delegated to represent Australian interests. There were occasions when I acted as conduit to the Indonesian Government on behalf of the Australian Government.21
In 1996, I was requested to represent Prime Minister Howard at the funeral of Ibu Tien (Madam Suharto).22 In the DFAT cable of 30 April 1996 it was reported:
“The presence of the Honourable Shane Stone as personal envoy of the Prime Minister at the funeral ceremonies for Ibu Tien was warmly welcomed by the Indonesian political elite and created a favourable image of Australia behaving in a manner consistent with regional sensitivities. The presence of the Chief Minister, as the only non-ASEAN in the front of the ceremonies was very obvious to the Indonesians, the rest of the ASEAN leaders and in the extensive media coverage. We received strong compliments on the gesture from State Secretary Moerdiono (Master of Ceremonies) and from many members of the Cabinet’; and, ‘Minister Moediono expressed his strong personal appreciation for Australia having made the effort necessary to get a special envoy of the Prime Minister to the funeral and his personal thanks to the Chief Minister for his participation and for the message on behalf of Australia. Many of the other comments which were conveyed to the Chief Minister reflected these sentiments. Australia’s participation was seen as reaffirmation of our relationship with Indonesia but also as being in touch with regional sensibilities”.
My attendance afforded an opportunity for Prime Minister Goh of Singapore to pass a confidential message back to Prime Minister Howard on a sensitive matter. When Suharto died, Prime Minister Rudd appropriately delegated former Prime Minister Keating and Attorney General McClelland to attend the funeral.23 Whether Australians want to hear it or not, Suharto was a great friend to Australia and we didn’t always reciprocate the same sentiment.
Such gestures are important in our relationships in the region. I had a personal relationship with successive Presidents of Indonesia and various Ministers including Foreign Minister Ali Alatas.24 That relationship extended to three successive Presidents of the Philippines, the Prime Minister of Malaysia and Chief Ministers of the various Malaysian States, the Sultan of Brunei and the Chinese leadership. I regularly participated in Ministerial forums, particularly among ASEAN countries notwithstanding Australia was not a member of ASEAN and had not yet achieved the breakthrough reported in December 2004.25 Former Philippines Trade Secretary once described my welcome participation in an ASEAN forum as akin to being a close friend of the family at a wedding.
My colleagues and I were always accepted as part of the region – we were from Darwin, long considered Australia’s Asian capital. Official visits to Jakarta always involved the Australian Mission - I insisted. We were all part of ‘Team Australia. The on-going relevance of the NT was leveraged off our access to the Merdeka Palace. Frans Seda would organise a private meeting with the President and the Australian Ambassador would accompany me. We would ‘workshop’ key messages and if Australia was trying to make a point or seek a clarification it would be undertaken in the course of the conversation. The Indonesians did likewise in delivering their own messages using such meetings as the conduit with the Australian Ambassador present.
I was coached as a Minister and Chief Minister by Franz Seda and successive Ambassadors including Allan Taylor, Phillip Flood and John McCarthy. Geoff Forrester, an acknowledged expert on matters Indonesian and Assistant Secretary DFAT, was a regular sounding board as was veteran diplomat Dick Woolcott. All contributed greatly to my understanding and appreciation of a relationship that at times was akin to walking on eggshells. There is nothing new about the ongoing sensitivities between Indonesia and Australia.
I always considered the NT participation in BIMP-EAGA26 (notwithstanding Australia was not a member of ASEAN) in conjunction with the Annual EXPO27 as defining achievements. BIMP-EAGA (Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Philippines – East ASEAN Growth Area) was a growth Polygon and our role in its formation was supported and sanction by then Foreign Minister Evans and has been documented in a number of texts and articles written by regional commentators.
Successive DFAT cables bore out the NT’s success in working the region. For example following the Official visit and trade delegation to to Sabah mid April 1998, DFAT reported:
‘’The warmth of Territory-State relations was evidenced by the excellent access given to the party. The States conferment of the title Datuk on the Chief Minister and Sabah Chief Minister Yong’s public recognition of the Northern Territory as part of the BIMP EAGA family’’; and ‘’In his speech at the Sabah Business Council Dinner hosted in honour of Mr. Stone Chief Minister Yong paid tribute to the Northern Territory’s place in regional trade saying that the Territory was administratively part of BIMP-EAGA. The NT was represented at many Regional BIMP-EAGA meetings and had created a role for itself in the ‘BIMP’ family. Yong noted that Mr. Stone was personally well acquainted with ASEAN and familiar with many sub-regional capitals. Yong noted also that the Northern Territory had done well as Australia’s gateway to Asia Pacific’’.
The success of the Territory through BIMP EAGA was applauded by both sides of politics in Canberra. Responding to a question in the Assembly I observed:28
“I was delighted to hear that Prime Minister Howard had promoted the Northern Territory as the link for Australian business into the East ASEAN Growth Area at the recent APEC leader’s summit. In fact, Territorians can be very proud of our record in South-East Asia in relation to BIMP-EAGA. We certainly have been accepted as the obvious link into the region. The Prime Minister’s comment was made in Manila in the Philippines, with all of the key APEC leaders present, after a meeting with President Ramos. It came on top of participation in the ministerial forum in Jakarta that resulted in the agreement to establish AIDA. I spoke about that in the House yesterday. Mr Howard referred specifically to the live cattle trade operating between the Northern Territory and General Santos City in the Philippines and the need to utilise this relationship to expand into other areas, including investment. Interestingly, President Ramos, although pleased with the response from our Prime Minister, asked him to address the problem of Australia’s growing trade imbalance with the Philippines. Honourable members would be aware that we are currently shipping some $60m-worth of goods into the Philippines, mainly into the southern Philippines, but we are buying only $1m-worth of goods from them. I am pleased to announce today that, once again, the Northern Territory is leading Australia, and I believe taking regional leadership by establishing a counter-trade committee with the Philippines to try to address this issue. Yesterday afternoon, I met here in Darwin with Mr Miguel Patalot, the Philippines manager of the counter-trade group that has been formed by President Ramos, to discuss developments in this area. His committee has the task of reducing the trade imbalance by identifying potential goods and services that can be imported into Australia, particularly through Darwin. Mr Patalot has agreed to accompany us to the national trade and investment outlook conference in Melbourne from 1 to 4 December as part of the Northern Territory team.
NTIOC is an initiative of the federal Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. It provides both Australian and international business people with first-hand knowledge of developments in the international market and it is used as a forum to establish alliances with very prominent players in the region. The member for Greatorex will be accompanying me. Officers from the Department of Asian Relations, Trade and Industry and the Trade Development Zone will also attend NTIOC in an effort to foster relations with new and existing business contacts. The Northern Territory delegation and I will meet separately with key international and Australian delegates, including Mr Qin Xiao, president of the China International Trust and Investment Corporation, Hon Roberto de O’Campo, Secretary for Finance in the Philippines, Mr Abuizal Bakrie, chairman of the Bakrie Group of Indonesia and one of Indonesia’s leading businessmen, Mr Paul Simons, the chairman of the federal government’s current aid review, and several others. In conjunction with NTIOC 1996, I will also attend the round table trade ministers conference to be chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister, Hon Tim Fischer. This round table conference will draw together a very impressive group of 40 international and Australian government ministers, officials and key business people from around the world. The conference agenda focuses on the future of Asian economic growth and will include discussions of policy matters for future growth. The meeting will also hear from a number of prominent Asian leaders and business people regarding both Asian economic growth and the global trading system, and will include issues such as getting the trading balance correct. I look forward to participating in both NTIOC and the round table conference, and taking the opportunity to further promote the Northern Territory to the rest of Australia and the international participants”.
We promoted with the Northern Territory Chamber of Commerce and Industry (NTCCI) Territory EXPO which at its peak was the most prominent trade exhibition in South East Asia, all staged out of Darwin. So successful did the event become that the Federal Government agreed to convene the annual Ministerial Trade Ministers Council to coincide with the Territory EXPO. We also promoted the establishment of the NT Exporters Council under the auspices of the NTCCI to enable local Territory business to access Asian markets. I long held the view that Governments don’t do business; we were not a command economy. We needed the business community to step up but first we had to help the NTCCI and other like minded organisations to build capacity among their membership. With capacity they could step into the shoes of Government and drive commercial engagement.29 Politicians love signing bits of paper, MOUs and the like, and valuable as they are unless followed through by business they count for little. My advice to Governments pursuing trade is to empower, fund and support industry groups – help them build capacity. Help them prepare to do business in the region.
I have never understood how successive Territory Governments could let all that work and connection evaporate. It’s not as though they replaced this endeavour with other activity or set a different focus. Rather they became fat and lazy on the ‘rivers of gold’ that came their way with the GST. They squandered opportunity; turned their back on the region and opted for the big ticket projects like ConocoPhillips and INPEX. Stand alone, as good as they are such projects on their own don’t build a diversified economy. To those on the Labor side who disengaged from Asia and disparaged our efforts I can only put it down to petty jealousy; disappointing when I think about it. The mantra on the other side was that we neglected Aboriginal Territorians at the expense of our Asian engagement. When Labor’s time came they not only disengaged from the region they also abandoned their Aboriginal constituency.
The NT should look to re-establish its links in the region: in the case of Indonesia this won’t be easy for 3 reasons. First, we walked away and they noticed. Second, in the light of current developments in the Australia Indonesia bilateral relationship it will be a challenge. Third we don’t have a Frans Seda (referred to below). The Territory has a lot of catching up to do.
This was a big win for the NT and one that went directly to capacity building. I campaigned successfully for the Federal Government to establish regional DFAT Offices to assist State and Territory Governments in engaging the region with the active encouragement of then Secretary of DFAT and former Australian Ambassador to Indonesia Dick Woollcott – the first such Office was in Darwin.
The Federal Government also wanted to know what we were up to. Rather than push back I disarmed my Federal counterparts by suggesting the Territory Director accompany all of my trade Missions. This is why Brendan Doran features so prominently in many of the trade mission photos (see Archives Images). Perhaps it was his idea after all; either way we felt he was ‘on the team’. I suspect Canberra wasn’t so sure about Brendan after a while.
Together with then Trade Minister Bob McMullin and interstate colleagues, I helped launch the policy and concept of Team Australia to overcome problems with jurisdictions ‘tripping’ over each other in the region. The concept was leveraged off the launch of ‘Inventive Australia’ under auspices of Market Australia.The ‘Inventive Australia’ campaign to promote Australia’s sophisticated goods and services was jointly launched by the Trade Ministers of Australia in Sydney April 1995.
I give a lot of credit to Trade Minister Bob McMullin for this initiative. There were some fundamental rules to be observed when off-shore and some of my State colleagues didn’t seem to get it - for starters letting the Australian Mission know that your delegation was in town was a simple courtesy even if you didn’t want their involvement. Also it wasn’t acceptable to ‘bag’ competing States and regardless of what you might have thought of Hawke and later Keating they were our Prime Minister and ‘sledging’ them to Asian hosts was counter-productive. Australians travelling offshore in an official capacity needed reminding that we always stood up for our country regardless of the politics. McMullin did well to persuade the States and Territories as to the merits of Team Australia.
My Government was confronted with managing the Asian Financial Crisis impact on the Northern Territory.30 The crisis had a huge impact on our neighbours and caught most off guard. ASEAN nations were particularly hard hit from mid 1997 particularly the Philippines and Indonesia our main customers for live cattle. The devaluation of the rupiah caused rioting in Indonesia culminating in IMF intervention, the humiliation of Suharto and his departure from office on 21 May 1998. When advised by Foreign Minister Ali Alatas that Indonesia would be permanently closing the Darwin Consulate by reason of the crisis I hammered out a financial package to ensure it remained open. My colleagues and I understood the importance of Indonesia maintaining a permanent diplomatic post in Darwin. It is also the reason I did all I could to shield the Consulate and their staff from the East Timor activists pre-independence. The loss of the Consulate stood to hurt the Territory more than Indonesia; such seemed completely lost on many of the protestors.
Throughout my time in Government, trade between the Northern Territory and the region grew and developed across a range of sectors including live cattle, logistics support for the resources sector based out of Darwin and an ever expanding services sector. The close multilateral relationships did much to encourage inward investment from the region that was not confined to Darwin. Matters of commerce alone did not preoccupy our efforts. We supported major agricultural initiatives in the region drawing on NT expertise (similar climate and topography), the retraining of subsistence fishermen to stop encroachment on NT fisheries31 and advanced health care and prevention through the Menzies School of Health Research. I encouraged a malaria research program in conjunction with the Menzies School of Health Research in three Indonesian provinces to coincide with the Republic of Indonesia’s 50th Anniversary.
There are numerous opportunities in this the Asian Century to further engage and build enduring trade relationships. The burgeoning middle class in the region with ever increasing discretionary income represents better opportunity than I was ever presented with. Our expanded health expertise largely facilitated by the Howard Government establishment of the National Trauma Center, our greatly improved secondary school sector and Charles Darwin University all represent opportunity. Darwin is a ‘hot spot’ for investment; a safe haven for overseas capital. The NT Government in partnership with industry groups need to refocus and recommit to the region.
I credit most of our success in Indonesia to our Jakarta based Northern Territory Government Representative, the late Drs. Frans Seda. A figure of Indonesian history Frans had the unique distinction of having served in both the Sukarno and Suharto administrations. He was on the death list of the PKI (Indonesian Communist Party) and 30 September Movement (G30S). In late 1965 when he bid farewell to his family to drive to his deserted Ministerial Office he did not expect to see them again. He didn’t want the death squad coming to his home as happened with General Nasution before the military led by Suharto moved on Sukarno, the G30S and PKI. Franz would later whisper to me:
“Suharto was not on the list”.
Later, when Frans was a Minister in the Suharto administration he would help navigate Indonesia through it’s first financial crisis. A Catholic from Flores, which was where he first met Sukarno during the latter’s internal exile by the Dutch, Frans was a defining figure in the history of Indonesia. Sukarno later remembered young Franz and the kindness of his family. Franz would emerge as a senior figure and Chairman in the Indonesian Catholic Party and the Indonesian Democratic party (PDI). He was a mentor to Megawati Sukarnoputri, Sukarno’s daughter and fourth President of the Republic of Indonesia.
Frans was a great man who, together with Joseph Halim, a former Indonesian Consul in Darwin and Budi Haliman skillfully steered the Territory through its Indonesian engagement. All three men were highly regarded in Jakarta and Darwin.
Frans played a very important role in formulating my approach to BIMP EAGA. He helped me navigate my way around the inconvenient fact that Australia was not a member of ASEAN. Frans did not see the Australian connection as a bar to the NT having an involvement. Frans turned out to be right much to the surprise of Canberra, sadly another connection now lost. Frans was the ultimate optimist with a sense of humor to match. He said in dealing with Indonesia be patient, understanding and never over react. He had a saying now somewhat dated:
“Britain might rule the waves but Indonesia waves the rules”
We all felt a great sense of loss when Frans died - he had been ill for some time and his age had started to catch up on him. When I submitted my Obituary on Frans to the NT News without my consent the content was altered to include a contribution and photograph of Chief Minister Henderson and Frans. The irony of that stunt was the Labor Government had on a previous occasion sacked Frans. Such was not lost on the old Asia hands around Darwin and in Jakarta. My Obituary appeared in the NT News Saturday Extra ‘Territory Loses a Real Friend in Frans Seda’ 2 January 201032 (Archives Documents).
I felt given my background I could contribute something useful to the current commentary on Australian Indonesian relations until I realised how blessed Australia was to have so many experts on matters to do with Indonesia. I was truly surprised at the number of journalists and MP’s who have hidden from us their extensive experience and in-depth knowledge of Indonesia especially journalists with a few exceptions including Greg Sheridan who has been a voice of reason and moderation. Former Ambassadors Phillip Flood and John McCarthy had something useful to say - not much I could add to the conversation. I wonder what my late friends Ali Alatas, Frans Seda and Geoff Forrester would make of it all. Ali would have had it sorted in the first week. The wisest words were those of my old friend the late General Leonardus Benjamin aka Benny Moerdani the Catholic Defence Minister under President Suharto. Speaking at the Australian Defence Studies Centre Conference on the 1994 Defence White Paper ‘National Security for the New Century’ Benny observed:33
‘’Allow me to digress somewhat and invite you to join me in a retrospection of Indonesian – Australia bilateral relations. The relationship has its ups and downs. It was said that Indonesia and Australia are ‘’strange neighbours’’. Their geographic proximity makes them very much visible and tangible to each other and the actions taken by the one immediately affects the other. Since each side knows relatively little about the other, a great deal of irritations has arisen in this relationship. Some years ago there was a determination on both sides to change this. We both agreed to do something to overcome these problems and to promote and strengthen our relations. Although Indonesia and Australia relations cannot be taken for granted, I believe we have come a long way’’.
Benny believed the bilateral relationship between Australia and Indonesia was a work in progress; many of us do. As Prime Minister Abbott has said:
“There’ll be good days and there’ll be better days’’.
That’s the nature of the relationship and we don’t need the Greens, sections of the Labor party and the misinformed commetariate lecturing us on how to conduct our bilateral affairs with our nearest neighbour Indonesia.
We found various ways to get our story about NT Asian engagement out and about. Strategies included Ministerial Statements, our own publications principally Northern Territory Business Magazine and freelance publications such as International Business Asia (see Archives Documents). We supported and participated in book launches and speaking engagements at various Conferences in the region. On 27 March 1997 I was privileged to deliver The 13th Asia Link Lecture on the topic ‘Engaging the Asia Pacific: Indonesia and Life after Suharto’ delivered in Melbourne and attended by Foreign Minister Hon Gareth Evans MP QC and a number of Industry Leaders. It proved an excellent opportunity to showcase our role in the region (see Archives Documents). There were also a number of Ministerial Statements and Adjournment Debates dealing with our engagement. I draw particular attention to BIMP-EAGA and the Asian Financial Crisis (see Archives Documents search Asian Relations and Trade).
There were numerous dimensions to our profile with East Asia more generally, largely through our support for tertiary institutions. Book launches in Darwin and interstate, particularly at the Australian National University, afforded an important opportunity to engage a wider audience that might comment favourably on our efforts and help lift our national profile. Examples included launching the publication in Darwin of the text ‘Bad times good friends: Australia and East Asia 1998’ edited by Dr Christine Fletcher Director, North Australia Research Unit (NARU), (Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies), and the northernmost part of The Australian National University (published by ANU 1998).
That collection of essays focused on the economic crisis in Asia and the effects on Australia’s relationship with countries in the East Asia region. The book was invaluable as an update on the impact of the political and economic upheaval on the treaties and Memorandums of Understanding that were part of the Australian network in the East Asia region. The essays provided a source of information on the dynamics of Australian State and Territory involvement in the region. It was the outcome of a conference that I strongly supported. All of the contributors were acknowledged as experts in their field and included senior politicians, public officials and academics from Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and Australia. In October 1998 at the Australian National University a further launch of ‘Bad times good friends: Australia and East Asia 1998’ featured Dr Amien Rais, Chairman of the Partai Amanat Nasional (National Mandate Party of Indonesia), Christine Fletcher and Geoff Forrester.
Last, that collection led to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between NARU and Indonesia’s respected Institute of Sciences (LIPI) aimed at promoting further project development between Jakarta and the NT. It was a relationship framed by a contract between the CSIRO and LIPI established in 1997. These were precisely the sort of partnerships I wanted to flourish.
I also made a point of supporting the Northern Territory University (NTU) publications through successive book launches; for example ‘Readings in Management Organisation and Culture in East and South East Asia’ edited by Peter Blunt and David Richards. The publication focused on scholarship which underscored the importance of cultural institutions, conceived broadly, in understanding and explaining economic action. Further we participated in a number of national conferences and seminars including ‘Indonesia Assessment 1995’. The proceedings of which were published by ANU as the ‘Proceedings of Indonesia Update Conference Indonesia Assessment 1995’ and edited by Geoff Forrester Department of Political and Social Change, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies. The publication included two main sections: one over-viewing the then current Indonesian economic and political conditions, and one examining economic and social developments.
We made a concerted effort to be part of the ‘national conversation’ about Australia’s engagement in the Asia Pacific where ever we could. The NT had an impressive profile and it was generally conceded in Canberra and elsewhere that we ‘punched above our weight’. When President Ramos of the Philippines delivered the 16th Asia-Australia Institute Asia Lecture on the occasion of his State Visit to Australia (including the Northern Territory) on 18 August 1995 an NT Delegation accompanied me to Sydney for the occasion.
We were again represented when, the following week, President Ramos delivered the 6th Asia Link Lecture in Melbourne on 21 August 1995 ‘The Philippines: Development within Asia Pacific Co-operation’ before arriving In Darwin where he would become the first Asian Head of State to Address an Australian Parliament on 23 August 1995 (see Archives Documents search Motions or Ramos). We engaged a range of expertise in Australia to assist us in building our profile in the front line of Asian engagement. Geoff Forrester former Deputy Secretary Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Professor Stephen Fitzgerald Australia’s first Ambassador to China and Director of the Asia-Australia Institute University of New South Wales University were among those who joined the Territory team.
Off shore the outstanding work of Frans Seda was supplemented by a range of expertise through South East Asia as we appointed representatives in the Philippines, Sabah and Shanghai. In my capacity as Minister for Asian Relations and Trade and later Chief Minister I took every opportunity to speak at Conferences, trade fairs and seminars highlighting the NT involvement in the region. Ministers Eric Poole and Daryl Manzie did likewise when they held the portfolio. We told our story very effectively and often – the region knew who we were and where we came from. This was the first step of commercial activity - to ensure the NT was in the consciousness of the potential customer in a favourable way. The NT was friendly, reliable, had enforceable rule of law and was trustworthy – good place to source expertise, goods and services. The rest was up to the private sector. ‘The Gateway to Asia’ wasn’t just some slick slogan.
The CLP parliamentary wing worked as a team over successive Governments to build the relationship in the Asia Pacific region. I admired the way Daryl Manzie set himself the task of learning Indonesian to assist in his Ministerial roles especially as Minister for Asian Relations and Trade. Daryl accompanied me on a number of delegations and like Eric Poole was a highly effective Minister on matters to do with the region. Rick Setter retired from the Assembly in 1997 but not before he had embarked upon learning Indonesian and playing an important role in harmonizing the relationship with our Australia Indonesia community in Darwin.
Steve Hatton was a trailblazer in the Indonesian relationship which is very much part of the legacy he can justifiably be proud of. I regularly had back bench CLP members accompany me as a Deputy Delegation leader when in the region - south east and north Asia. For example Terry McCarthy joined with me in leading the NT trade Delegation to the Davao and General Santos City in the Philippines. The latter is the Philippines most southern city and critical to the live cattle trade from the NT. It is part of SOCSARGEN, a region of the Philippines located in central Mindanao officially designated as Region XII. The name is an acronym that stands for the region’s four Provinces and one of its cities: South Cotabato, Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani and General Santos City. Our Delegation in 1993 was the first of an Australian Government. The city was reached by light Cessna aircraft overflying rebel held territory.
Mick Palmer was Deputy Leader on the NT Trade Delegation to North Asia included Japan and the Taejon Expo ‘93 South Korea. One of his most important tasks on that mission was to rescue me from a broken down lift in the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. Later as Minister for Primary Industries and Fisheries he would play a critically important role in building our live cattle trade to Indonesia, Brunei, the Philippines and Vietnam. Phil Mitchell fulfilled a similar role in the NT Delegation attending the Launch of BIMP-EAGA Davo City Mindanao Southern Philippines in November 1994. Richard Lim was Deputy Delegation leader to the largest NT Trade Mission to China in 1998 to progress the prospective gas project.
As Chief Minister I often invited other Ministers to accompany me when the circumstances were favourable. The best example is when Denis Burke as Minister for Health and Daryl Manzie as Minister for Asian Relations and Trade accompanied me to Jakarta for meetings. That paid off when the opportunity arose for me to introduce both Manzie and Burke to Suharto. That proved to be an important meeting particularly for Burke as I had come to the conclusion he was the one most likely to succeed me.
Following that event, I received a photo of the meeting unsolicited from President Suharto personally signed and with a message. I count this photo as a very special memento. Consistent with the theme of team CLP Marshall Perron arranged to introduce me to the Indonesian Foreign Minister Ali Alatas in Jakarta in 1994. As history records we became close friends. He later recommended me as the recipient of the distinguished Indonesian award - the Bintang Jasa Pratama. In retirement, we served together on the PT Thiess Indonesia Board. When Ali died I was privileged to publish his Obituary in the NT News Saturday Extra ‘Vale Ali Alatas, Good Friend of the Territory’ 20 December 2008 (Archives Documents).
We wanted the whole of Government to ‘own’ the Asia Pacific engagement. By involving colleagues at every level whether at functions and events in Darwin and best evidenced with the historic visit of President Ramos of the Philippines or accompanying trade missions and delegations I was able to ensure we had everyone on board.
These were exciting times where Government was afforded that unique opportunity to craft and drive policy that directly impacted on the economic development and growth of the Northern Territory. The challenge is now to re-invent what we had and reconnect.
As for the Australia Network which broadcasts into Asia managed by the ABC, that escapade has turned out to be a failure. The ABC appears to delight in embarrassing our Government offshore - reprehensible and not in the national interest. The Australian taxpayer is picking up the tab for the service and not unreasonably Australians should expect that the interests of their country will come first. The ABC’s role in the SBY saga exposed the broadcasters duplicity. In the alleged words of Assistant Secretary DFAT Justin Smith:34
“Identify what is needed to ensure the integrated Australia Network-Radio Australia service becomes a more effective vehicle for advancing Australia’s broad and enduring interests in the Asian region”.
The fact that DFAT have to even ask the question speaks volumes.
The forerunner to the Australia Network was Australia Television International launched 1 January 1993. Prime Minister Paul Keating formally launched the service. Both Chief Minister Perron and I privately declined to participate in the Darwin launch as we saw the exercise as largely unprepared, premature and we didn’t trust the ABC to advance Australia’s presence in the Asia-Pacific region in a positive light – sound familiar? Views similar to those by some commentators looking back over the history of the service.35 What followed was a media firestorm largely generated by the ABC with their fellow travellers in the ALP.
Labor Member John Bailey sought to embarrass the Perron Government with a Motion in support of ATI.36 Urged on by Nigel Adlam in the NT News with the headline:
‘The ABC can do more for our thrust into Asia than 1000 Shane Stones or Marshall Perrons’.
Yes, Nigel wrote it, and himself into history. Here was a News Limited journalist barracking for the ABC that, in time, would disgrace itself in the region. It was a fairly acrimonious debate. In my summation in reply to Bailey I observed:
There are two significant quotes on which I will conclude. The first was attributed to the Managing Director of the ABC, David Hill. He said: “What a grubby way to grab a headline”. What he had sought to conceal was that it was his own service, the ABC, which broke the story and created the headline. The second statement is attributed to Hon Gareth Evans and it will go down in history as one of the great understatements of all time. When commenting on the ABC’s performance in the past in the Asian region, he said: “There have been some bumps along the way”.
The best contribution belongs to the Member for Katherine Mike Reed who said:
'’At present, given the ABC’s past record, we must bear in mind that there are some sensitivities. We do not want to be taken down with it. One has only to look at the politically correct ABC campaigns for Labor or to read the McGuinness column in The Australian. A journalist relates the problems that he sees with the ABC - the in-built bias, the inequality and the lack of balance. These concerns are expressed and understood here and we do not want them imposed on our neighbours. And then look at the nonsense that Nigel Adlam wrote: ‘The ABC can do more for our thrust into Asia than 1000 Shane Stones or Marshall Perrons’. The ABC will never get through President Suharto’s door. We have a Chief Minister who has done that and that is something that Territorians should feel proud about. As I recall it, the Foreign Minister could not get his foot in the door yet, the following week, the Chief Minister was in Indonesia and was admitted. Those are matters that we should treasure and build on’’.
What is clear to me and many Australians is the ABC can’t be trusted and this is not new. The ABC back then was certainly not working to be ‘a more effective vehicle for advancing Australia’s broad and enduring interests in the Asian region’ Nothing has changed. As for those 1000 Shane Stones and Marshall Perrons dread the thought, history will be our judge. And thank you Nigel for the accolade - we wear it with pride.
Sixth Assembly First Session 23/02/1993 Parliamentary Record Topic: Motion Subject: Australia Television International Date: 03/03/1993 Member: Mr Bailey pp. 7800-7835 ↩
The Australian ‘ABC put on notice over foreign TV’ 2 January 2014 ↩
Transcript John Howard at CLP Function Darwin 26 February 1998 ↩
The base components of a power tariff are a return on capital, depreciation, recovery of operating costs and tax; those who call for a ‘power freeze’ actually damage the economy particularly where the asset generating and distributing the power is Government owned such as NT Power and Water. NT Opposition Leader Delia Lawrie’s recent call to freeze power prizes shows she has still not taken responsibility for trashing the NT finances; worse she has the temerity to makes demands showing she has learned nothing ↩
I laughed when watching the movie Armageddon. ‘Rockhound’ says to his fellow astronauts ‘’ You know we’re sitting on four million pounds of fuel, one nuclear weapon and a thing that has 270,000 moving parts built by the lowest bidder. Makes you feel good, doesn’t it?’ ↩
NT News Editorial ‘Platform for Growth’ 9 February 1999 ↩
His Excellency Fidel V Ramos President of the Philippines Address to the Seventh Assembly First Session 22/08/1995 Parliamentary Record No: 14 Address by His Excellency President Fidel V. Ramos ↩
Northern Territory of Australia Legislative Assembly Sixth Assembly First Session Parliamentary Record (Hansard) Tuesday 4 December 1990 p.46 ‘’The Territory has been built by those who had the opportunity and seized on it without complaint’’; ‘’it is also my earnest hope that my time in this House will coincide with a new sense of enthusiasm and spirit in the Territory such as that experienced by our pioneers, and the realisation of our destiny in the Asia-Pacific region’’ ↩
Lyal MacIntosh had been recruited by Chief Minister Marshall Perron from Westpac; later I would add external consultant the late Geoff Forrester (former Assistant Secretary DEFAT and Indonesia expert) ↩
See tribute to Nathan Sammy Eighth Assembly First Session 08/11/1998 Parliamentary Record No: 8 13 August 1998 Adjournment Debate Tribute to Nathan Sammy ↩
Australia ASEAN Business Forum celebrating the 40th Anniversary of Australia becoming the first ASEAN Dialoge Partner hosted by CITCSA and sponsored by SA Government, DFAT, ANZ Bank, AIBC, ABDBC, PBC, TSABC Adelaide 12 February 2014 ↩
Seventh Assembly First Session 23 August 1994 Parliamentary Record No: 2 Topic: Address-in-Reply Subject: Address-In-Reply Date: 25 August 1994 pp. 800-801 ↩
Sydney Morning Herald Good Weekend Magazine ‘Little Big Chief’ 25 October 1996 ↩
Transcript John Howard at CLP Function Darwin 26 February 1998 ↩
Eric Poole had remained loyal throughout and refused to sign the letter. Poole had come to show strength of character and resolve that any Chief Minister and the CLP should have acknowledged and treasured. When his son fell foul of the mandatory sentencing legislation he stoically observed Cabinet solidarity. He didn’t flinch, complain or seek any special favour - he coped it. He had more back bone and gumption than those who sought to diminish him ↩
Sixth Assembly First Session 11/08/1992 Parliamentary Record No: 11 Adjournment Debate Report on teaching of Languages 18/08/1993 p. 5494; Sixth Assembly First Session 18/05/1993 Parliamentary Record No: 16 Adjournment Debate Report on teaching of Indonesian 27/05/1993 p. 8707; Sixth Assembly First Session 11/08/1992 Parliamentary Record No: 11 Adjournment Debate Report on teaching of Indonesian pp. 5208-09; Sixth Assembly First Session 17/11/1992 Parliamentary Record No: 14 Adjournment Debate Report on teaching of Indonesian 18/11/1992 p. 6884 ↩
IATVEP: Indonesia-Australia Technical and Vocational Education Project ↩
AUSAID: The Australian Government’s agency that oversights the overseas aid program ↩
The Memorandum of Association between Indonesia and the Northern Territory on the Economic Development and Co-operation between the Territory and the Eastern Provinces signed in Jakarta 1992 was the collective work of Steve Hatton, Marshall Perron and Barry Coulter. It provided a platform for much of what was achieved in the region between Indonesia and the NT. The idea of Indonesia a sovereign entity signing such an agreement with the NT was a point of irritation with the Federal Government who worked to displace it with the Australia Indonesia Development Area Agreement executed at the 3rd Indonesia Australia Ministerial Conference. See also Hon Shane L Stone MLA Sixth Assembly First Session 19/05/1993 Parliamentary Record No: 16 Adjournment Debate MOU ↩
For example see Jakarta Post ‘RI Backs Aust for ASEM Membership’ 16 April 1998; I also represented the Australian Government at the funeral of Siti Hartinah (wife of President Suharto) at the suggestion of the Indonesian Government in late April 1996 ↩
I subsequently briefly reported on this task in the Legislative Assembly Seventh Assembly First Session 14/05/1996 Parliamentary Record No: 21 Subject: Adjournment debate 14/05/1996 ↩
Sydney Morning Herald ‘ Keating guest at Suharto funeral’ 28 January 2008 ↩
Ali Alatas and I were personal friends. I recommended Alatas join the Advisory Board of PT Thiess Indonesia in his retirement. On the death of Alatas I published an Obituary in the NT News ‘Vale Ali Alatas, good friend of the Territory’ 20 December 2008 ↩
BIMP EAGA: East ASEAN Growth Area, a subregional economic cooperation initiative by Brunei Darussalam, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, all of which are member countries of the regional Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Seventh Assembly First Session 29/11/1994 Parliamentary Record No: 7 Ministerial Statement Australia’s Northern Territory and The East ASEAN Growth Area ↩
Ibid footnote 21 ↩
NT Expo held annually in Darwin is one of the largest trade expositions of its kind in Australia with a particular focus on regional trade and cultural exchange with neighbouring Southeast Asia ↩
Seventh Assembly First Session 26/11/1996 Parliament Record No.29 Date : 28/11/1996 Question: National Trade and Investment Outlook Conference Question Date: 28/11/1996 Member : Dr Lim To : Minister for Asian Relations and Trade p. 1856 -1857 ↩
Seventh Assembly First Session 11/26/1996 Parliamentary Record No: 29 28 November 1996 Adjournment Debate Opening of East ASEAN Business Council Secretariat in Brunei pp. 10448-10449; see also Seventh Assembly First Session 11/26/1996 Parliamentary Record No: 29 26 November 1996 Adjournment Debate Northern Territory Export Awards pp. 10267-10268 ↩
See Ministerial Statement by Chief Minister Hon Shane L Stone MLA Regional Economic Upheaval-The NT and Strategies for the Future Eighth Assembly First Session 24/02/1998 Parliamentary Record No: 4; see also NT News ‘CM: Be Bullish with Indonesia’ 15 April 1998 ↩
For example see Ministerial Statement by the Honourable Michael aka Mick Palmer MLA Minister Primary Industries and Fisheries NT Rural and Fishing Industry Involvement in Asia 08/10/1996 Seventh Assembly First Session 22/08/1995 Parliamentary Record No: 26; see also Seventh Assembly First Session 29/11/1994 Parliamentary Record No: 7 Adjournment Debate Report on Trochus Shell pp. 2159-2160 ↩
NT News Saturday Extra Territory Loses a Real Friend in Frans Seda 21 Jan 2010 pp. 24-25 ↩
16 December 1994 Canberra ↩
The Australian ‘ABC put on notice over foreign TV’ 2 January 2014 ↩
For example see The Australian Greg Sheridan ‘Best to shut down quasi diplomacy’ 6 February 2014 ‘’Founded by the Keating government, the Australia Network in all its guises has been a colossal waste of money and a complete, absolute failure as public policy. There is no need for any more inquiries, tenders, reconsiderations or reforms’’ ↩
Op cit, footnote 1 ↩
Next: Chapter 12: The 'Chief'