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Tuesday, 14 June 2005
Page: 8

Mr CADMAN (2:35 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister inform the House how President Musharraf’s visit can be expected to benefit Australia and our region?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Mitchell for his question and his interest. President Musharraf of Pakistan will be visiting Australia from 13 to 16 June. This is the first ever visit to Australia by a head of state of Pakistan. Pakistan is above all a key partner for Australia in the war against terror. I do not think Australians should underestimate the importance of Pakistan in the war against terrorism. For example, Jemaah Islamiah from our own region used Pakistan for training until it was disrupted by Pakistani agencies. The Pakistanis have captured many al-Qaeda members, including most recently Abu Faraj al-Libbi. President Musharraf has been personally targeted by terrorists on a number of occasions.

Quite apart from anything else, this is an opportunity for us to commend President Musharraf on the job he is doing in countering terrorism. During the visit, I will be signing with the Pakistani minister accompanying the President a memorandum of understanding on counter-terrorism, something that was discussed during the recent visit of Foreign Minister Kasuri of Pakistan in May. That memorandum of understanding will lead to further cooperation in areas like law enforcement, information exchanges, and exchanges on financial operations, border control, transport security and so on. For the record, that will bring to 11 the number of memoranda of understanding on counter-terrorism that we have with countries around the region.

Ministers will also be signing a memorandum of understanding on agricultural cooperation. Pakistan is an important market for Australian agricultural products, including wheat. We had some difficulty last year with our wheat exports, but those difficulties have been resolved. We also have an aid program with Pakistan. We are going to provide $6.6 million for a series of agricultural sector linkages, including seven scholarships to come to Australia.

Let me say in conclusion that I have just been in India during the last week where I met with the Indian Prime Minister and other ministers. I made the point to the Indian Prime Minister and to the foreign minister that we very much appreciate the role that India has played with Pakistan to bring about a greater degree of accommodation between those two countries. More than that, this will be an opportunity during President Musharraf’s visit to also say to President Musharraf that we appreciate the role he is playing in normalising relations between Pakistan and India.