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Monday, 29 November 2004
Page: 31

Dr SOUTHCOTT (2:30 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister inform the House of the significance of the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand summit for Australia's relationship with South-East Asia?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Boothby for his question. The government is delighted that the Prime Minister is able to attend the historic ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand summit, which will take place tonight and tomorrow in Vientiane. Amongst other things, this summit will mark the 30th anniversary of Australia becoming an ASEAN dialogue partner. Indeed, I think I am right in saying that Australia was the first ASEAN dialogue partner.

This summit is a key recognition not only of the importance of ASEAN to Australia but of the importance of Australia to ASEAN. We are optimistic that a key outcome of the summit will be the beginning of negotiations towards establishing something that I think is extremely desirable—that is, an ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand free trade area or free trade agreement. That would build, of course, on the strong commercial links that already exist between Australia and the ASEAN countries, on the free trade agreements we have negotiated with Thailand and Singapore and on the work we are doing with Malaysia.

The summit is also an opportunity to reflect the depth and range of our ties with ASEAN, from counter-terrorism—Australia and ASEAN signed a joint declaration on counter-terrorism on 1 July, and we have counter-terrorism memoranda of understanding with a number of ASEAN countries—to the defence and security relationships that we have built up, in different forms with different countries in ASEAN; with all of them we have some measure of a defence and security relationship. We have excellent cooperation with ASEAN on drug trafficking and people-smuggling, to the extent that we have as good as stopped people-smuggling from being directed to Australia.

Our people-to-people links have continued to grow, too—through students, for example. There are 75,000 students from ASEAN countries studying in Australia, and over 600,000 tourists from South-East Asia visited Australia in 2003.

Finally, we make a strong aid commitment every year to a number of ASEAN countries—obviously, not to all of them. To those ASEAN countries that are eligible for the receipt of development assistance in 2004, we will be providing about $400 million worth of aid.

This summit is an opportunity for heads of government, including our own, to draw together the threads of a very comprehensive and very successful relationship—one that has continued to build over many years. I think that both sides of the House have been committed to the relationship, but equally—and it is important to remember this—it needs to be a two-way relationship. I think that we as a country have in recent years demonstrated not just the importance of ASEAN to Australia but the importance of Australia to the ASEAN countries.