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Monday, 21 June 2004
Page: 30877

Mr RIPOLL (1:15 PM) —I am pleased to also speak on this delegation to the 12th annual meeting of the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum, the APPF. This was the second time that I have been a delegate to this forum to help Australia contribute to these very important Asia-Pacific regional talks. I would like to begin by thanking the chairman of our delegation, the member for Fadden, who spoke some very kind words in his contribution earlier. I thank him for the role he played in assuring that Australia contributed fully. I also thank the other members of the delegation—the member for Stirling and Senator Ferris. I make particular mention also of our secretary, Judy Middlebrook, whose assistance and work for the delegation is invaluable and unbelievable. It certainly makes our work a lot easier.

This particular parliamentary forum was held in Beijing and was excellently hosted by the Chinese authorities. Their hospitality was first rate, and the way in which they organised the forum made the plenary sessions, discussions and meetings much easier to deal with.

The forum has been going since 1993—just over 10 years. In that time there have been many meetings where Asia-Pacific countries come together to discuss issues of mutual importance: economic, environmental and security cooperation; regional issues; and stability and prosperity in our region. Having been to two of these forums, I now have a fuller understanding of the importance of these types of meetings where regional partners and neighbours can come together and talk about issues that are significant to them—outside of more formal settings in government-to-government talks. These are parliamentary-to-parliamentary talks and are extremely valuable.

We discuss a range of issues, set an agenda and pass resolutions agreed to by each annual meeting so that each country can take them back to their own parliaments and use them as a basis for action in their own countries and their parts of the region. I find that extremely important, particularly in the climate that we live in with regional cooperation being a key to regional stability and cooperation between countries, in terms of better understanding what we each do, what we think about each other, how we better coordinate our own programs, and how we get on as nations and as neighbours.

The future of the APPF is significant. It is a meeting of nations that should continue into the future, and for that to happen we do need to look at a number of issues. For a few years there has been a move towards establishing a permanent secretariat. While Australia has not agreed with this position, and that continues to be the case, I do believe that we need to look at a better mechanism to continue the work of the APPF between sessions, from year to year. In our view, that has come in the form of the web site and some web based information. I think that is the best way for us to continue sharing ideas and forming resolutions. The idea of a permanent secretariat is, I think, still early. We do not have one group that is prepared to come forward and take on that huge responsibility.

We had a number of bilateral meetings; in particular, we had a very successful one with the delegation from Indonesia, our closest neighbour in the region, and we also had a meeting with our friends from Thailand. I would also like to place on the record my thanks to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Parliamentary Library and also to Larissa Ashwin from the Beijing post, who was very helpful in getting some material together and helping us in terms of diplomacy for our delegation. All in all, it was a very worthwhile experience and I recommend it to anyone who would like to take part in a delegation in the future. (Time expired)