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Wednesday, 28 June 2000
Page: 18479


Mr BROUGH (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business) (4:51 PM) —by leave—I present the report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to the kingdom of Cambodia and the 20th General Assembly of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Organisation. The 20th General Assembly of AIPO was held in Manila, the Philippines, from 19 to 24 September 1999. The Australian delegation comprised me; the member for Swan; Mr Kim Wilkie, who is currently in Zimbabwe; and Senator Ross Lightfoot. Successive Australian delegations to AIPO have found it a valuable forum to initiate and develop good relations with countries in the South-East Asian region. This was the case for the 20th General Assembly. Full membership of AIPO is restricted to the members of ASEAN, the Association of South-East Asian Nations. In this respect, the 20th General Assembly of AIPO was significant because it saw Cambodia admitted to full membership. This followed Cambodia's admission to ASEAN in April 1999. Including Cambodia, ASEAN now comprises 10 member countries.

For the Australian delegation, Cambodia's admission to AIPO had added significance because it followed an official visit to Cambodia, from 13 to 18 September. The delegation's visit to Cambodia left us in no doubt that Cambodia is a country facing tremendous challenges. Years of conflict have taken their toll on the economic potential and social fabric of the country. Sadly, the problems continue. To this day landmines inflict harm and misery on an estimated 200 people a month. Even when medical services exist, it is often the case that poor roads prevent access to the services in sufficient time to be of any benefit. HIV-AIDS is endemic. Poverty is widespread, and corruption militates against economic development and prosperity. Despite these circumstances, we found the Cambodian people determined to overcome their adversity. We were heartened by comments made by Australian business representatives based in Phnom Penh. They suggested that there are real opportunities for those willing to invest and work in Cambodia. Similarly, we were encouraged by the development assistance being provided by various non-government organisations in Cambodia. We were made to feel welcome wherever we travelled. In our meetings with senior government and parliamentary representatives we found affection for Australia and gratitude for the way Australia has stood by Cambodia for many years.

The delegation's visit to Cambodia was the first from this parliament since 1996. On behalf of the Australian parliament, the delegation presented invitations to visit Australia to the President of the National Assembly, His Royal Highness Prince Norodom Ranariddh, and His Royal Highness Prince Sisowath Chivan Monirak, then Acting President of the Senate. I am advised that a Cambodian parliamentary delegation may visit Australia later this year. A highlight of this visit was an audience with the King of Cambodia, His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk. The audience with the king left no doubt as to the high regard in which Cambodia views Australia.

Before concluding my remarks, I would like to comment on the 20th General Assembly of AIPO. Australia's participation at AIPO is as an `observer nation'. This means attendance at some plenary sessions is precluded. However, observer status does require participation in dialogue sessions. Dialogue sessions provide an opportunity for AIPO member countries to direct questions to an observer nation delegation—a potentially daunting exercise for the observer nations. The timing of the 20th general assembly coincided with conflict in East Timor and announcements by the Australian government about Australia's response. This presented an uncertain and potentially difficult situation for the Australian delegation. I am pleased to say no difficulties were experienced. Perhaps to the contrary, we found a willingness to discuss issues amongst all AIPO nations and a generally positive attitude to Australia's role in the region.

We found AIPO member nations had both a strong interest in Australia and a strong desire for Australian companies to invest in the region. Also of interest were education, trade opportunities and the sharing of information and technical expertise. Formal presentations and informal discussions suggested that countries in South-East Asia have renewed confidence following the problems associated with the Asian economic crisis. Keynote speeches highlighted the need for countries in South-East Asia to address cross-border issues in a cooperative fashion. A prime example is that of illicit drugs. From Australia's perspective, formal presentations provided an opportunity to reaffirm our long-term commitment to the region and our support for United Nations initiatives aimed at reducing the trafficking of people. Finally, I would like to take the opportunity to publicly recognise the support provided by His Excellency Dr Malcolm Leader, Australia's Ambassador to Cambodia; Ms Shennia Spillane, then First Secretary of Australia's Embassy in Phnom Penh; and His Excellency Mr John Buckley, Australia's Ambassador to the Philippines. I would also like to thank Trevor Rowe, who was the secretary accompanying the delegation, for the fantastic work he did in ensuring that this was a success for the delegation and for Australia. They all impressed us and have added greatly to Australia's contribution to South-East Asia. I commend the report to honourable members.