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Tuesday, 1 February 1994
Page: 25

Mr CONNOLLY —by leave—I present the report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to the second annual meeting of the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum held in Manila from 13 to 15 January 1994. The second annual meeting of the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum was in many respects an outstanding event. It was a great credit to the organisers, to the Speaker, the Hon. Jose De Venecia, and members of the Philippine parliament. It was also a great credit to the representatives of the 18 nations who came together for the second annual meeting of this newly formed Asia-Pacific regional body.

  On a previous occasion I tabled in this House the first report of the Tokyo meeting, which ended with the signing of the Tokyo declaration establishing the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum. For most members of this House that organisation is probably still little known or little understood. Principally, the concept of this forum was built back in 1990-91. Both Mr Nakasone, a former Prime Minister of Japan, and I entered into a dialogue to see what could be done to establish a regional body.

  We subsequently met in Singapore, where seven countries were represented. We worked through a discussion paper, which I prepared. Out of that meeting came the conference in Canberra the following year. That, in turn, led to the first conference in Tokyo in January 1993 establishing the APPF and the signing of the Tokyo declaration.

  One of the objectives which came out of the original discussion paper and which was certainly underlined and formalised in the final communique from the Manila meeting was the decision of the conference to seek a closer working relationship with APEC. This will be one of the big issues which both the Australian government and the other 18 nations—23 nations will be members by the time of the next conference in 1995—must address. APEC has been to date a highly successful organisation and has brought together not only the heads of government but also a range of senior ministers and senior civil servants to examine a whole range of trade and economically related issues relevant to the future destiny of the Asia-Pacific region.

  Perhaps one of APEC's most fundamental shortcomings to date has been that overall neither the parliaments nor the communities of the region have the faintest idea of what APEC is all about. In the 1991 discussion paper I noted that, if APEC were to be a success, it was essential that APEC develop a working relationship through an assembly of parliamentarians throughout the Asia-Pacific region. This theme was taken up by the President of the Philippines, President Fidel Ramos, in his opening remarks at the Manila meeting. He said:

  The unique challenge before us now is no longer the contest of ideologies but the timely application of unique processes and institutions of representative democracy to resolve abiding problems of our decade—particularly these concerning poverty, illiteracy, inequity in the distribution of wealth, and the degradation of the environment.

  These contemporary problems transcend the boundaries of nations—that is why a regional assembly like the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum is an indispensable means for us to move forward.

He went on to say:

  APEC's signal achievement would come to nothing if its initiatives were not followed up by others—by our government bureaucracies, by our private sectors, and by our parliaments and legislatures themselves.

  Of all these groups, the support of our legislators becomes the most crucial—for without their consent, our landmark undertakings and agreements could conceivably be aborted. In our parliaments and congresses, the spirit of Asia-Pacific community must also surge, as much as it does now at the highest councils of the executives in our respective governments.

Perhaps the most outstanding factor which came out of the Manila meeting was the fact that for the first time we had a head of state open the conference and speak to it on the results of the APEC heads of government meeting, which took place in Seattle only a few months before—a concept which was recommended by Australia and which I believe will be continued by heads of state at future conferences.

  The final joint communique of the Manila meeting was of considerable relevance. It covered a wide range of subjects. The communique referred principally to the problems of regional, political and security dialogue. It noted that the APPF welcomes the inauguration of the ASEAN regional forum. The significance of the forum, which had its inaugural meeting this year, is that it is a turning point in a regional security dialogue for the Asia-Pacific. Whilst the forum is based on the membership of ASEAN, it will have dialogue partners including Australia, the United States and various other countries of this region. For the first time, therefore, the nations of South-East Asia and the Pacific are being seriously encouraged at a regional level to develop a security dialogue relevant to the entire region.

  We drew special attention to the problem of the Spratly Islands, which are the subject of a territorial dispute involving no fewer than five members of either ASEAN or APEC. We also referred to the question of nuclear weapons development by North Korea, which is not only seen as a very serious concern to China, Japan and South Korea but also represents the potential to seriously destabilise nuclear weapon development in North Asia. The conference also discussed the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group and resolved to encourage the furtherance of its goals. We want to seek ways of forging closer ties with APEC by becoming the parliamentary organisation to APEC.

  We also referred to the Uruguay Round. I had the pleasure to move on behalf of Australia a motion supporting the final consummation of the Uruguay Round but, on the other hand, we had to emphasise that there is much more work to be done. The parliaments of APEC member states supported these efforts to further enhance free trade in the Asia-Pacific region in particular and the world in general.

  The conference also took up an initiative of the Philippines that there should be an economic growth polygon covering the islands of Mindanao in the southern Philippines, Sulawesi in eastern Indonesia, Malaysia, Sabah, Brunei and North Australia, along with Singapore, Johore and Batam Island. It is interesting to see that the island economies to the north of Australia are now looking for relationships in addition to their intergovernmental relationships. This will ensure that northern Australia, based on Darwin, will be given every opportunity to develop economic and social relationships with those nations in the future. Consequently, the APPF further encourages the initiative to establish a non-political, free and liberalised trade area among the southern Philippines and its neighbours, which will certainly give added economic impetus to northern Australia.

  The conference was not related only to problems of defence or trade. It also covered issues such as human resource development and protection. In particular, the establishment of a network of higher educational institutions should be pursued throughout the region.

  The APPF also recognises the aspirations of indigenous peoples, the preservation of their traditions and culture, and the protection of their rights. I saw the inclusion of this statement in our final communique as being of major significance to the indigenous people not only of Australia but also of the Pacific and of South-East Asia as a whole.

  Virtually every nation in the region has small indigenous populations. The one thing that has characterised them over many hundreds of years is that for far too long they have been treated as second-class citizens. It is good, therefore, to see that at a parliamentary level across the spectrum—from the western seaboard of Canada and the United States, down to Mexico and across to the eastern seaboard of the Pacific—there is now a commonality of view that the rights and the aspirations of indigenous people must be preserved and recognised.

  In terms of environmental protection, it was emphasised that Australia and its neighbours in the Pacific have a shared responsibility to pass on the Pacific Ocean to the next generation in as pristine a manner as possible. We should align the respective environmental policies of our countries as a matter of concern to the entire region. These policies must particularly identify the issues of air pollution, acid rain, and the destruction of coastal marine resources and tropical rainforests, as well as other environmental problems that have been surfacing in Asia and the Pacific over recent years.

  An Australian initiative in the communique also emphasised the protection of tropical rainforests, which is now a global issue. We drew particular attention to the problems of the Pacific island nations in protecting forests. In the final communique of the South Pacific Forum meeting in August 1993 in Nauru they had drawn attention to this matter. The APPF emphasised in its statement, while recognising sovereignty, due regard must be given to acknowledging that environmental issues transcend national boundaries.

  The APPF also called on member nations to assist in acting positively to advance sustainable development in the developing nations within the region. We saw the need to use opportunities through overseas development assistance—ODA—the Paris Club and other multinational organisations to achieve large-scale debt for nature swaps and other possible means of providing greater levels of protection for the environment.

  The APPF also emphasised the need to prevent the dumping of nuclear and toxic wastes in the Pacific Ocean. We called for a ban on ocean dumping of nuclear and toxic wastes throughout the region. Concern was also expressed at the proposed continued testing of nuclear devices by France at Mururoa and called upon that nation to cease nuclear testing in the Pacific region.

  The APPF believes we have an obligation to preserve and pass on to future generations the assets that its peoples have today. That is why cultural cooperation and environmental cooperation were two of the most important components of the final communique of the conference.

  Emphasis was also placed on the need to direct our efforts to the social and health problems specifically relating to AIDS and the human immuno-deficiency virus. It was suggested that governments should be adopting a strategy for the fight against AIDS and HIV infections which stressed information and education in terms of high-risk behaviour. Regrettably, while many of the societies of Asia and the Pacific are aware that they have the problem, they have had some difficulty in addressing these issues.

  The conference also believed that there is a need to reassess AIDS and HIV infection prevention and control programs, bearing in mind the approach, the language used and the people being targeted. In this context there is undoubtedly a role for business leaders to support wider AIDS-HIV prevention activities in communities and to ensure humane treatment for all people who have the virus through one means or another.

  In terms of drugs, emphasis was also given to the need to reduce the growing worldwide trend of illicit drug trafficking, which has increased and invariably generates corruption, criminality and violence. There is also a need for APPF member countries to forge greater cooperation in the control and eradication of the drug problem. The conference recommended that the United Nations consider the development of an international regime or protocol to strictly control the production and distribution of the chemicals used in illicit drugs.

  As I noted earlier, our membership of 18 is on the verge of increasing. Countries such as Chile, Fiji, Laos and Vietnam will now be entitled to join the APPF. It was an Australian initiative that the last three—Fiji, Laos and Vietnam—should be encouraged to join. It was also an Australian initiative at the meeting in Tokyo that we should invite Cambodia to join. This demonstrates quite conclusively the longstanding interest which the Australian parliament will no doubt continue to have in building up the closest possible relationships with our Asian neighbours.

  Finally, I refer also to the draft rules of procedure. At the Tokyo conference there were no draft rules of procedure. Although we did a considerable amount of work, there was obviously a need for them to be put in place. With the support of officers of this parliament, I initiated the development of these draft rules. They were tabled at the conference as a joint Australian-Philippines initiative. I am pleased to be able to advise the House that they were adopted with virtually no amendments.

  It would be very appropriate on this occasion for me to also note the considerable contribution made by the former President of the Senate, Mr Kerry Sibraa, who has now departed from these hallowed halls for a diplomatic posting to Africa. Mr Sibraa and the former Speaker of this House, Mr Leo McLeay, and I are probably the three people who have had the most to do with the establishment of Australia's relationships in the APPF and for getting the organisation onto a sound footing. Kerry Sibraa's involvement will be missed. I am sure that the 80-odd people who participated in the Manila meeting would wish me to pass on their appreciation for his contribution and to wish him well in his new diplomatic career.

  I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to make a small contribution to the development of this new international organisation. I believe it is of fundamental importance that we do what we can to help develop not only the economic welfare of the nations within our region but also this social and political development as well. This is where we live. This is where our children will grow up. This is the environment in which they must survive and prosper. Therefore, the role which Australia plays has to be always seen as useful, supportive and contributory. Above all, we must be seen as good international citizens in the Asia-Pacific region.

  I am sure that when the APPF is further developed and associated with APEC—and that will take some further discussion at a governmental level—we will see the strengthening of APEC within the region, because for the first time it will have the capacity to get its message and its proposals down through the parliaments of the region and into the communities which it was established to support.

Mr SPEAKER —I have listened with a great deal of interest to the statement of the honourable member for Bradfield (Mr Connolly) on the APPF meeting in Manila and would like to make one or two comments on this organisation. As the honourable member would know, I and, as he rightly pointed out, my predecessor and the former President of the Senate have been deeply involved in the development of the APPF. It is because of other commitments that my personal involvement has not been as great as that of the other three. There is no doubt that the forum itself provides an excellent vehicle for parliamentarians of the Asia-Pacific region to meet and to exchange views on matters of common interest and concern.

  Australia has played a key role in the formation and development of the APPF and is viewed as one of the principal pillars of the organisation. I think that is not putting too fine a point on it. Along with Japan, I think Australia has been one of the major contributors to its formation. In an ongoing sense, if it were not for Australia and for Japan, the organisation may have faded. There was some thought that, with the demise of Mr Nakasone's own political fortunes in his country, that may have happened. Of course, that has not, and I am delighted that that is the case.

  I note, however, from the joint communique issued after the meeting in Manila that at that meeting considerable emphasis was placed on the APPF becoming the parliamentary organisation to APEC. While I certainly concur with the communique's expression of support for APEC, I believe that the question of linkages between APPF and APEC will have to be addressed by APEC members at a later stage in APEC's development. I am sure that honourable members would agree that APEC is still a young organisation which needs time to establish its priorities and to consolidate its existing activities and structures.

  It is also worth noting—I think the honourable member for Bradfield himself pointed this out—that membership of the APPF is wider than that of APEC and is continuing to grow, and that will happen more and more in coming meetings. To my mind this also counts against perhaps a successful meshing of those two organisations, certainly at this stage, and it is probably therefore difficult to envisage APEC and its working groups reporting to the wider membership of APPF. However, that in no way diminishes the ability of APPF to consider APEC issues.

  I would like to thank the members of the Australian delegation on behalf of the parliament: ex-senator Kerry Sibraa; the honourable member for Bradfield; Mr Lyn Barlin, the secretary to the delegation; and Mr Brian McNamara who, at the time, was the acting senior adviser to the then President of the Senate. I also record the appreciation of the parliamentary representatives to Mr Jeremy Donne of the Australian Embassy in Manila. I thank them for their attendance at the meeting and for their very significant contribution to the plenary and working group deliberations. Both the honourable member for Bradfield and the Clerk of the House were instrumental in putting together the particular working rules for this organisation, and I do not think in any way that we should underscore that contribution.

  The delegation report noted in its conclusion that the influence and importance of the APPF will undoubtedly grow. It is essential that Australia should continue to actively participate in and support the organisation. To ensure Australia's continued participation, I believe that it may be desirable to include attendance at the forum in the future program of outgoing delegations of this parliament. I will seek the view of the President of the Senate on this matter with a view to including the APPF in the 1995 and ongoing programs.

  Honourable members may also wish to consider the establishment of an APPF group within the parliament, in the same way as we have CPA and IPU. Such a group could provide an appropriate focus for interested Australian parliamentarians to support and advance the objectives and activities of the APPF. I will also be exploring this possibility in conjunction with the President of the Senate.

  I conclude by again thanking the honourable member for Bradfield for tabling this report today. Australia's contribution cannot be underscored, nor the contribution made by our representatives at that meeting.