And the British Prime Minister, Mrs Thatcher, warned the Commonwealth against trying to interfere with the work of the “contact” group of Western nations in trying to reach a settlement on Namibia — an issue on which Australia’s Prime Minister, Mr Fraser, is anxious to see the Commonwealth exert pressure.
Mr Muldoon and Mrs Thatcher both attacked the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Mr Ramphal. Mr Muldoon criticised Mr Ramphal’s interpretation of the Gleneagles Agreement and Mrs Thatcher attacked his claim that the world economy was on the verge of collapse.
Mrs Thatcher’s strong comments on Namibia surprised Australian and African officials, who are anxious for CHOGM to take a tough stand on the issue. Australian officials said last night they had not expected Mrs Thatcher to make public her views on the Namibian question.
Mr Fraser, in an interview on the ABC programme ‘PM’ said the conference would be anxious to find out whether the contact group had a timetable for Namibian independence, and what — if anything — the South Africans had agreed to. He said if there was anything the conference could do, it would be to give greater support to the contact group.
Mr Fraser, who is anxious to avoid divisions at the conference, moved quickly to try to contain the Gleneagles issue by getting Mr Muldoon to agree to it being thrashed out at the weekend “retreat” in Canberra rather than at this week’s formal sessions.
Mr Muldoon called a Press conference as soon as he arrived in Melbourne yesterday afternoon to declare his position on Gleneagles — thereby upstaging the Secretary-General, who traditionally gives the first Press conference.
Mr Muldoon said: “I certainly intend to raise (Gleneagles) because I think it is essential for the future that each of the heads of government knows precisely what It is that he is agreeing to. At the moment there is considerable confusion and, I think, difference of opinion on that.”
Mr Muldoon said the Commonwealth Secretariat, and many Commonwealth leaders, believed that countries had undertaken, under the Gleneagles Agreement, to end sporting contacts with South Africa.
“We did no such thing. We undertook to try to persuade our sportsmen to stop sporting contacts with South Africa — and we have had very considerable success.” he said.
But Mr Ramphal told his Press conference later that the Commonwealth had made its position “extremely clear.”
He said the agreement had never imposed an obligation on countries to prohibit sporting contacts — the issue was in fact about how vigorously a Government sought to prevent such contacts.
Mr Ramphal said that a country which did not prohibit sporting contacts Imposed on itself “rather special obligations to find other means of successfully discouraging the particular sporting contact”.
Mr Fraser has been trying to have the Springbok issue played down this week because a divisive debate would increase the chances of a boycott of next year’s Commonwealth Garnet in Brisbane, and destroy the amity of the conference.
At his meeting with Mr Muldoon yesterday afternoon, after the New Zealand Prime Minister’s public comments, Mr Fraser insisted that the two views could be reconciled.
Mr Fraser said other countries had indicated they did not want to stir up a row over the Springbok tour. According to New Zealand sources, Mr Fraser said it should be dealt with during the weekend retreat.
Meanwhile, Mrs Thatcher warned against any moves at CHOGM to bring about a special Commonwealth initiative on Namibia.
Mrs Thatcher said the question of Namibia’s independence from South Africa should be kept to the United Nations and the associated five-member Western contact group — comprising Britain, the United States, France, Germany and Canada — to resolve.
“There is already a contact group and United Nations action and it would be by far the best to leave it to those two,” she said on ‘PM’.
“There are continuing discussions with South Africa and there may be a way through. I think it would be a great pity if anything was done to impede or impair that process,” she said.
A new set of meetings had already been arranged and they would take place in October, Mrs Thatcher added.
There has been recurring talk of a possible Commonwealth “initiative” on Namibia, although in recent weeks Mr Fraser and Australian officials have said the scope for this is limited.
Yesterday Australia’s Foreign Minister, Mr Street, met a senior member of the Namibian liberation movement SWAPO, Mr Peter Katjavivi, who has come from London to lobby delegations.
Mrs Thatcher also delivered a strong attack on Mr Ramphal over his predictions that the world economy was facing collapse. “I do not think it wise to ever talk in terms of collapse, those are dramatic words,” she said.
Mrs Thatcher said that in Britain companies were becoming increasingly profitable and showing signs of being able to compete.
However, Mrs Thatcher said she hoped the North-South debate could be developed at CHOGM. “I think how to climb out of the world recession will take quite a big part in our discussions. There will, of course, be political problems, I expect Namibia will come up now that we have Rhodesia sorted out.”
Mrs Thatcher said she hoped the meeting would not spend too long on the Gleneagles Agreement. “I hope we will be able to confirm it, but not discuss it In too much detail,” she added.
Mrs Thatcher said that the question of Pakistan’s readmittance to the Commonwealth would be discussed and that she had a firm view on the issue, which she was not prepared to discuss at this stage.
Mr Fraser and Mr Muldoon at their talks agreed to the objective of having a closer economic relation between their two countries from 1983. Negotiations for closer economic relations have been under way for some time. Mr Muldoon had indicated from Wellington that he wanted to use the CHOGM opportunity to further discuss the matter. They also agreed that talks would be held on it at Prime Ministerial level next year, and there should be industry-to-industry consultations as well.