CANBERRA – A senior Labor politician has caused a diplomatic stir in Canberra, accidentally raising "problems with China" during an official Japanese Embassy event for the Emperor's birthday.
The Huffington Post Australia understands the Opposition's Deputy Senate Leader Don Farrell was toasting Emperor Akihito at a dinner attended by the diplomatic corp on Tuesday night when he slipped by paying tribute to the Australia/China relationship instead of Australian and Japan.
The senator attended the function as the sole Australian parliamentary representative while the Senate debated the Turnbull Government's key ABCC legislation.
Sources in the room say eyebrows were raised as China and Japan, the world's second and third largest economies, have a strained relationship and are in the midst of a testing dispute over islands in the East China Sea.
It's understood Senator Farrell, a right-wing Labor powerbroker and a key member of the Parliamentary Friendship Group for Japan, tried to cover by joking he "had China on his mind a lot lately," and said to the Japanese Ambassador Sumio Kusaka, "We are both having trouble there aren't we?"
The office of Senator Farrell has confirmed the slip of the tongue, but said his intentions were good.
"Senator Farrell was honoured to receive an invitation to celebrations for the birthday of His Majesty the Emperor of Japan," a spokesman said in a statement.
"He was pleased to be able to attend in-between lively debate in the Senate."
"Asked to speak off the cuff, Senator Farrell highlighted the strength and importance of Australia's relationship with Japan."