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Documents reveal Australia’s Cold War concerns

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Laaska News January 1,2011.
By online political correspondent Emma Rodgers(ABC).
Secret cabinet documents from 1980 reveal how Malcolm Fraser’s cabinet grappled with the desire to back the US during escalating Cold War tensions while protecting Australia’s own military and trade interests.

Cabinet records released today by the National Archives detail more than 2,600 decisions and 759 submissions in a year dominated by fears of Soviet expansionism.

US president Jimmy Carter (left) talks to Australian prime minister Malcolm Fraser at the White House in Washington, DC in early 1980. (National Archives)

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The records also illustrate how many contentious issues facing the Gillard Government – conflict in Afghanistan and Australia’s relationship with the US, illegal immigrants, interest rates and a mining boom – were also dominating the political agenda 30 years ago.

But Mr Fraser also had to deal with controversies more specific to the times, such as Vanuatu’s push for independence and increasing pressure to investigate the effects on veterans of the use of Agent Orange during the Vietnam War.

Mr Fraser also faced a stoush with the Western Australian government over its insistence on drilling for oil on the Noonkanbah Aboriginal reserve in the Kimberley.

And instability in South-East Asia divided cabinet, with foreign minister Andrew Peacock and Mr Fraser at odds over whether Australia should continue to recognise Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime amid public anger over its atrocities.

As the government was preparing to fight Labor leader Bill Hayden for a third term in power it was also under pressure to raise interest rates, lower the deficit, and prepare for the effects of an anticipated $29 billion mining boom.

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Soviet tensions

In the wake of the USSR invasion of Afghanistan in late 1979, Mr Fraser was keen to offer the US military support and was also quick to lobby sporting bodies to boycott the 1980 Moscow Olympic games.

But the US push for tough restrictions on wheat exports to the USSR was a trickier matter.

Early in the year Mr Fraser toured several countries to discuss the Afghanistan invasion and during meetings with US president Jimmy Carter offered access to Australian military facilities.

This would include use of the naval base in Cockburn Sound in Western Australia and staging facilities in Darwin for B-52 bombers.

Cabinet minutes in February note that while the US welcomed the offer Australia would need to further demonstrate its support in increased defence and co-operation and assistance, “including the availability of Australian support facilities for US forces and a more active Australian defence effort in the Indian Ocean region”.

The cabinet agreed to bolster defence activities in the Indian Ocean through surveillance, patrolling and increased equipment and facilities and gave further consideration to more acquisitions as it significantly increased its defence budget.

But concerns were raised by defence minister James Killen of problems arising from the US use of Australian defence facilities for operations, such as an increased threat of nuclear attack and the potential for Australia to be complicit in US military activities that it did not support.

“Supporting common interests with so large a power as the US risks involvement beyond, and perhaps in conflict with national interests,” he said in documents put to cabinet.

Cabinet continued to debate what role Australia had in supporting its allies in operations beyond its immediate neighbourhood and Mr Killen also argued against diverting defence spending on equipment and training on operations that were not relevant to Australia.

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Games boycott

While the government mulled the concerns arising out of increased US military support, it was clear in its push to support Mr Carter’s call to boycott the Moscow Olympic games.

In February, cabinet agreed it was not in Australia’s interests to compete and asked the Australian Olympic Federation (AOF) not to send a team.

Documents submitted to cabinet acknowledge that agreement for the boycott would only be secured if a strong case could be made that it would be effective.

Cabinet considered the idea of an alternative competition being held around the world, in which Australia would host hockey and shooting and send its teams for other sports overseas.

The alternative plan would have cost around $3 million.

But ultimately Mr Fraser failed in his bid for a boycott, with the AOF voting by six votes to five in favour of sending a team.

He recently admitted that pursuing the attempted boycott was a mistake.

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Trade and economy

Cabinet used several avenues to cut ties with the USSR such as through the suspension of bilateral talks and official visits but it was reluctant to bow to US demands over wheat exports.

In June the US asked major grain producing countries to limit their exports to half their 1979-80 levels but the request was not well-received.

Australia agreed only to cap its sales to the 1979-80 level and also kept its contract for that year intact.

With the economy in fairly good shape, treasurer John Howard again pushed for cabinet to consider a broad-based indirect tax, arguing that the country was too reliant on revenue from income tax.

However he failed to make much progress among his colleagues for his proposal.

Cabinet was also under pressure from Treasury to reduce the deficit, act against rising inflation and raise interest rates – an unpalatable prospect in an election year.

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Source:ABC News

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Laaska News.