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Monday, 15 September 2003
Page: 19988


Mr HARTSUYKER (1:05 PM) —I rise to speak on the observation report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to the Cambodian National Assembly elections. As a nation, I think Australia can be proud of the role that it has played in supporting democracy in Cambodia. By way of outcome, we can see that the trend for democracy is certainly improving. The electoral process is, I believe, becoming a very fair process. It has improved through a range of measures in which Australia has played a part. Australia has had a significant role to play in supporting the democratic process—a process which we in this country take for granted but which is a relatively new commodity for the Cambodians. Australia has been there, assisting in areas such as voter education, voter registration procedures and media.

In this country we are very much used to the process of the media inquiring in great detail about the policies and plans of the various political parties. But in Cambodia, certainly in the past, there has been a much more regulated approach to reporting in the media; previously there has not been the question and answer type of interview arrangements, which we are very used to seeing in Australia. The Australian government has played a part in sponsoring a program on Cambodian television which enabled the Cambodian people to see, for the first time, their future political representatives answering questions put forward by interviewers. I think that the question and answer style of interviewing, which we are used to in this country, has been a great step forward.

I would also like to commend our embassy staff, who did a great job in facilitating the visit by the observation team. Our embassy does a great job in representing the interests of Australia in Cambodia. I was very impressed with the great work that AusAID are doing in Cambodia. We can, through various niche projects, provide very much needed aid that targets specific areas of need. For instance, our delegation was able to visit the Friends project, a very important project in Phnom Pen, run by a Frenchman called Sebastian Marot. It has a mandate to look after young children and to give them education and work skills to enable them to provide for themselves. Unfortunately, because of adverse impacts such as AIDS, a great number of young children are required to fend for themselves. The Friends organisation does a great job in providing them with the training and education that will, hopefully, enable them to become self-sufficient in the future. That is just one particular project in which AusAID has been involved. The projects that we saw were very well targeted, getting right down to providing services on the ground—and that is important.

I also would like to comment on the degree of enthusiasm—the member for Ryan commented on this earlier—with which as a general rule the Cambodian people embraced the right to vote and being able to participate in the future of their country. As to our methods as an observation team, we called in at quite a number of polling stations and inspected the procedures, both before and during polling; we also observed the closing of the polls. But in addition to that we wanted to look at what the average Cambodian person in the street thought of the process. We went doorknocking, which is quite a novel approach for politicians overseas. We doorknocked a range of businesses and private houses in the Kampong Cham province and we were pleased to note that, when we called at random at a particular house or business, the spirit of that house or business was very positive regarding the process. People were keen to participate. They did not feel intimidated and they felt that their vote counted. (Time expired)