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Monday, 25 June 2001
Page: 28439


Mr GEORGIOU (2:03 PM) —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Would the Prime Minister inform the House why the visit of President Wahid has been delayed? What will be the main focus of the talks that you will be having with him when he arrives?


Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for Kooyong for that question. Unfortunately, due to mechanical trouble with his plane, the President of Indonesia was obliged to make an unscheduled stop in Darwin. I can now inform the House that he and his party, via three Royal Australian Air Force Falcons, are on their way to Canberra. I expect that they will arrive in Canberra shortly after 5.00 p.m. this afternoon.

I look forward to meeting the President tomorrow. As well as our having a one-on-one meeting, he and his ministers will meet me and their ministerial counterparts in the government. This is a very important visit. It is not only symbolically important—it is certainly that—but it is also important for the contribution it will make to the ongoing relationship between our two countries. Everyone in the House knows that relations between Australia and Indonesia went through a difficult time over matters concerning East Timor. It is the desire, I know, of the government, and I am sure of the broader Australian community, to move on from those difficulties and to make certain at a political level that the strength of the relationship between our two societies is further strengthened. I would offer the view that the events surrounding East Timor, although they caused tension at a political level, did not essentially undermine the strong people-to-people links that have existed between Australia and Indonesia over a long period of time.

In our discussions tomorrow, the President and I will discuss a range of issues across our broad relationship. I welcome the strong growth in the economic side of the relationship. For example, trade and investment remains very solid. Indonesia is Australia's tenth largest market for exports and Australia is ranked as Indonesia's tenth largest investor. Last year's Australia-Indonesia Ministerial Forum made good progress in many practical areas, and I will be discussing some of these with President Wahid, including our desire for continued and, if possible, increased cooperation in the very difficult area of people-smuggling.

We respect and support, and will continue to advocate in international fora, the territorial integrity of the Republic of Indonesia and will continue to express our hope that secessionist tensions can be resolved, including through autonomy provisions. We welcome the transition to democracy which has been undertaken in Indonesia in recent years. It is a very large country and it is a very important neighbour of Australia. I cannot emphasis too much the significance, both symbolically and otherwise, of the visit. It is the first visit to the national capital for 29 years by a serving Indonesian president. It is the first visit to Australia since 1975—the last being by President Suharto to Townsville in 1975. For those and many other reasons, it is a very important moment in the foreign relations of this country. When the President arrives in the national capital this afternoon, he will be very warmly welcomed on behalf of all the Australian people.

Honourable members—Hear, hear!