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Private notes, public documents cause stir in Australia

A leak of more than 10,000 pages of sensitive foreign-policy documents is embarrassing the Australian government and could undermine relations with key Asian neighbors. Dubbed ``The Hayden Papers,'' the documents allegedly contain the acerbic private notes of Bill Hayden, former minister for foreign affairs and trade. Mr. Hayden stepped down last month when he was appointed governor-general.

Hayden's marginal notes on memos and secret briefing papers describe Japan as ``hypocritical'' in dealings with Indochina. Indonesians were called ``erratic, hostile people.'' Papua New Guinea's handling of ties with Indonesia showed ``limited maturity.'' And the Malaysian foreign minister's behavior at a meeting with Australia was ``oafish,'' the notes said.

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Sensitive details of Australian electronic eavesdropping on Indonesia are also reportedly among the leaked papers.

The documents were revealed last week in the latest issue of The Eye, a low-budget investigative magazine published by Sydney journalist Brian Toohey.

The leaked documents also indicate that Australian policy on port calls by nuclear warships was drafted by the United States State Department after a controversy arose in 1983. Australia had refused permission to use Sydney dry-dock facilities to a British aircraft carrier suspected of carrying nuclear weapons.

Apparently concerned about the implications for US port calls, US Secretary of State George Shultz ``hit the roof,'' reports The Eye. The next day, the US Embassy forwarded to the Australian Foreign Affairs Ministry a policy statement drafted by Mr. Shultz's staff. Two months later Australia announced a new policy endorsing ship visits, which was almost verbatim from the US draft.

The authenticity of the documents has not been denied by the Australian government. Prime Minister Bob Hawke defends Hayden's right to make frank comments in private. But he publicly reassured Australia's neighbors that Hayden's notes, made in 1983 and 1984, do not reflect Australia's actual foreign policy views.

Analysts say the damage to Australia's regional relations is likely to be minor. No formal protests have been lodged. Some observers say the issue has been fanned by press coverage that emphasized the name-calling without the context.

Still, the leaks aren't going to help Australia's efforts to build bridges with Southeast Asian nations. As Australia's new governor-general (effective February 1989), Hayden's job will include regular contact with foreign leaders.

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Papua New Guinea's prime minister said that if the documents were real, he was sure an apology would soon be forthcoming. Indeed, when Australia's new foreign minister makes his first overseas trip this week, Papua New Guinea will be his first stop. And leaks about the US hand in policymaking on ship visits will give fresh ammunition to the antinuclear elements of Mr. Hawke's Labor Party.

Citing potential damage to foreign relations and defense, the government obtained a court order last Thursday to block further publication of the leaked documents. Mr. Toohey was ordered to hand them over, but said his copies had already been destroyed.

Before the ban was imposed, Toohey sold an article to the Sydney Morning Herald detailing Hayden's unflattering views of Nauru, a Pacific island nation. Another major paper reportedly has a Toohey article awaiting publication.

The veteran journalist's actions are also stirring debate over the propriety of publishing private comments made by government officials and revealing details of intelligence agency operations.

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