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Monday, 22 February 2010
Page: 1396


Mr BEVIS (9:00 PM) —Mr Speaker, I present the report of the Australian Parliamentary Delegation to the 55th Annual Session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Edinburgh 14-17 November 2009, and seek leave to make a statement in connection with the report.

Leave granted.


Mr BEVIS —At the outset I want to place on record my thanks to a number of people whose support was essential in the conduct of this parliamentary delegation. I want to record the thanks from me and I know other members of the committee to Australia’s ambassador in Belgium, His Excellency Alan Thomas and especially to his military attache, Colonel Michael Toohey. Colonel Toohey accompanied us while we were in Belgium with various briefings and he was simply excellent in the support that he provided to the committee. I also want to thank Terry Porter of the Australian High Commission in the UK, for the wonderful logistical support he provided to the committee, and also Richard Selth, the secretary of the committee, who accompanied the delegation.

At the outset I also want to place on record my thanks to the other members of the parliamentary delegation and, in particular, the member for McEwan, who is in the chamber today, whose participation and support both in private meetings and in the formal hearings of the NATO assembly were greatly appreciated by me and I know by other members.

The delegation’s principal purpose was to participate and attend the NATO assembly. Importantly, before we visited the NATO assembly we had the opportunity to go to NATO headquarters in Belgium. That was a critically important activity to be undertaken prior to the engagement at the NATO assembly, and the briefings that we received from both the secretariat and the military people involved in NATO placed the committee in a very good position to be able to engage more fully in the NATO assembly hearings. I also should acknowledge the encouragement and support we received from the NATO secretariat. Their support and assistance made our engagement at the assembly, I think, much more effective than it might otherwise have been.

It also provided us with the opportunity to attend a number of important historical sites that are certainly relevant to the broad focus of our activity. We were in Belgium on Remembrance Day and we had the opportunity both on Remembrance Day on 11th of the 11th and on the evening before, on 10th of the 11th, to attend the services at Menin Gate in Ypres.

I want to acknowledge the honour that was given to the Australian delegation at both of those important ceremonies. Many Australians make the pilgrimage to Anzac Cove—and quite rightly so—but I think many Australians who have had the opportunity to attend a ceremony at Menin Gate, particularly on such an important occasion as Remembrance Day, 11th of the 11th, gain a true appreciation of the high regard with which Australia is held from the efforts of the men and women who served particularly but not only during World War I.

Our attendance at the North Atlantic assembly was a very useful occasion for us as Australian parliamentarians to engage in discussions with a broad range of parliamentary representatives from throughout the NATO countries. We were pleased and honoured that the president of NATO made special mention of the Australian parliamentary delegation’s involvement in the assembly.

We also had the opportunity to meet with the Dutch parliamentary delegation. That was especially important because, as most members of this House would know, the Australian forces in Afghanistan work alongside the Dutch, and indeed the Dutch have principal carriage for the area of operations in which the Australian troops are focused.

The Dutch parliament some time last year, I believe, made a decision that they would not continue with their deployment beyond a finishing date this year. It was clearly a matter of great interest to us, and the opportunity to talk to our Dutch colleagues was very useful from both sides of the table. The fact that the president of the assembly of NATO attended those discussions is also an indication that some importance was placed on that. I must say I had very mixed feelings about the news over the last few days that the Dutch government has fallen precisely on that issue.

Unlike many reports of this nature, this report does include a recommendation. It is, I believe, an important recommendation that the Australian parliament participate in NATO assemblies at least once every two years. These assemblies are actually conducted twice a year. It is a critical engagement in a world in which security threats are not geographically confined. (Time expired)