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Monday, 20 June 2005
Page: 5

The SPEAKER (12:46 PM) —I present the report of the Australian Parliamentary Delegation to the 13th annual meeting of the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum held in Ha Long City, Vietnam, from 10 to 13 January 2005. This delegation included the member for Cowan as deputy leader, the members for Capricornia and Hume, Senator Eggleston and me as leader. The Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum is an organisation with great significance for Australia because it is an assembly of members of national parliaments in the Asia-Pacific region. Since 1993 it has met each January to discuss matters of mutual concern—mainly strategic, economic, social and cultural issues. These meetings provide a valuable opportunity for Australian members of parliament to hold discussions with parliamentarians from the region on matters of common interest.

The focus of the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum is on countries that are Australia’s neighbours and that are therefore of immediate concern to our regional strategic and economic interests. Giving strength to this focus are the formal objectives of the forum. These are, firstly, to deepen our understanding of the interests and policy concerns of countries in the region; secondly, to examine the major political, social and cultural developments arising from economic growth and integration; thirdly, to promote cooperation; and, fourthly, to foster the roles we have as national parliamentarians to build up a sense of regional cohesion and cooperation.

None of us will forget the impact of the tragic earthquake and tsunami on this meeting that was held only two weeks after the event. While it cast a shadow over the meeting and we were deeply conscious of the suffering and loss amongst our colleagues from other parliaments, we were also glad of the opportunity to express our sympathy and friendship to these colleagues. They were keen to inform us of the impact of the disaster on their own countries, but they were equally keen to acknowledge the great assistance they were receiving and the spirit of friendship and cooperation which was behind the generous and immediate response to the disaster.

On behalf of the parliament, I expressed to the meeting our sympathy to all those affected, particularly those who suffered so much in Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia. The tsunami demonstrated to all of us how a single event can affect many countries—and that among the diverse countries of our region there is cohesion and strong bonds of friendship based on shared humanity, compassion and common interest. I was also able to reiterate Australia’s strong and continuing support for the aims and objectives of the forum and our commitment to helping to achieve a regional and international environment that is peaceful and secure.

I will turn now to the substantive subject matter of the meeting. As is customary at these meetings, sessions were broken into three main areas: political and security issues, economic and trade issues and cooperation in addressing regional issues of general interest. I spoke to the session on the regional and international political and security situation and, in doing so, I emphasised that, as globalisation increases economic interdependence, this in turn increases countries’ shared stakes in stability and security. The roles of the ASEAN Regional Forum and APEC in countering threats to stability and security were emphasised, together with Australia’s support for capacity building in regional states.

The report discusses other resolutions proposed by Australia and the delegation’s contributions to debate and negotiation. The issues addressed included international terrorism, landmines, the world and regional economic situation and the environment. As well as debate in the plenary, the delegation took an active role in all meetings of the drafting committee. In addition, the delegation participated in a number of successful bilateral meetings with other delegations, including the President of the National Assembly of Vietnam, the Speaker of the Indonesian House of Representatives and the leader of the delegation from the People’s Republic of China.

On behalf of the delegation I would like to express our thanks to the Australian Ambassador to Vietnam, Mr Joe Thwaites, Ms Sandra Henderson from the embassy in Hanoi and staff from the National Assembly of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. I also thank the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Parliamentary Library and the Parliamentary Relations Office. I wish to place on record my sincere thanks to my former senior adviser, Peter Gibson, whose depth of understanding of the APPF and analytical and organisational skills provided a very high level of support to our delegation. In conclusion, I would like to thank all members of the delegation for their active support and involvement and also Catherine Cornish, the hardworking secretary to the delegation.