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Monday, 31 October 2005
Page: 2

Mr SLIPPER (12:36 PM) —Mr Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to support your remarks in relation to the report by the Australian parliamentary delegation to China and Mongolia. As you have indicated, the hospitality extended to the delegation in both countries was very much appreciated. I believe that the visit by the delegation to these two countries was both timely and constructive for Australia’s bilateral relationships with the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of Mongolia. The hospitality extended by the National People’s Congress and the State Great Hural of Mongolia was outstanding. In both countries, the delegation was given access to officials and ministers at a very high level. In fact, in Mongolia the delegation met the outgoing president, the incoming president and also other senior ministers.

It would be wonderful if Australia were able to have diplomatic representation in every capital of the world. No doubt the Minister for Foreign Affairs would like this to occur, but the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, like other departments, must operate within a budget. At times it is necessary for various departments to prioritise what they are able to achieve compared with what they would like to be able to achieve.

I am impressed by the quality of our diplomatic representation in Beijing. The relationship between the People’s Republic of China and Australia poses great opportunities for both countries, but it is a relationship which needs to be worked at; it needs highly competent diplomats. My observation of our personnel in Beijing is that our nation is well served by those people who have been posted to Beijing.

Following the collapse of the former Soviet Union, I gather that Australia’s diplomatic representation to Mongolia moved from the ambassador in Moscow to the ambassador in Beijing. While I do appreciate that it is not possible to be like the United Kingdom and have a full-time embassy in Ulaanbaatar, it occurs to me that, as a matter of priority, we ought to be looking at the appointment of an honorary consul to Ulaanbaatar or the allocation of a person from the Beijing embassy to be resident in Ulaanbaatar. There are great opportunities for Australia as far as trade with Mongolia is concerned, but unless we have people on the ground, strongly asserting Australia’s interests, we will not be able to capitalise on those opportunities.

There is no doubt that the embassy staff in Beijing are very busy, and it is a pity that they are not able to spend more time in Mongolia. Frankly, if I were the ambassador in Beijing, I do not think that I would be able to spare staff in Mongolia. One of the things that I would like to see occur is the government consider appointing the ambassador in Moscow to be once again Australia’s non-resident ambassador in Ulaanbaatar. Perhaps the Moscow ambassador is not as busy as the Beijing ambassador—although I am not really in a position to say whether that is the case or not. As a matter of very high priority, I think we ought to look at an honorary consul in Ulaanbaator so that the bilateral relationship is able to be encouraged and nurtured.

Mr Speaker, time is short, so I will not reiterate the points you made, but I, like you, was impressed by the group of former Australian students called ‘Mozzies’ now in many cases percolating right to the upper reaches of the bureaucracy in Ulaanbaatar and Mongolia more generally. I see the relationship as being a fruitful one—one that we can develop and one that we are going to have to work at.

I felt honoured to be chosen as a member of the delegation to China and Mongolia. I want to congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on your leadership and also the delegation secretary on the very efficient way in which he carried out his duties.