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Thursday, 24 March 2011
Page: 3125

The SPEAKER (9:02 AM) —For the information of members, I present the report of the Australian Parliamentary Delegation to the 19th annual meeting of the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum, Ulaanbaatar, 22 to 27 January 2011. As leader of the delegation, I am pleased to present the report of its participation in this meeting. The delegation members comprised the member for Reid, John Murphy, and Senator Anne McEwen. This was a smaller group than usual, as two delegates remained at home to assist constituents during the flooding in Queensland and Victoria. A delegation from our parliament has participated in every annual meeting of the APPF, as well as the meetings that prepared for the establishment of the forum. I attended my first APPF meeting in 1998 and since then I have had the pleasure of attending the meetings in Vientiane in 2009 and Singapore in 2010.

This is an organisation that is relevant to Australia, as the countries that participate are clearly significant to our strategic and economic interests. There are many different perspectives presented in the APPF and we recognise that it is healthy to have open debate and resolve any differences that might arise by agreeing on resolutions before the meeting concludes each year. Over the years I have observed that at least some measure of understanding is gained for the views and interests of regional neighbours. This year’s meeting was no exception.

I turn now to the substance of the meeting. There were three broad subject headings on the agenda: economic and trade matters, political and security issues, and interparliamentary cooperation. The delegation proposed a resolution on the reform of the APPF. Each of us spoke in the plenary on a range of items, and the delegation participated in all sessions of the drafting committee, where draft resolutions are settled before they are returned to the plenary for adoption at the final session.

In addition, the delegation was pleased to have meetings with the Prime Minister of Mongolia, Mr Batbold Sukhbaatar; the Chairman of the State Great Hural, who was the President of APPF19; and the delegations from Russia, South Korea and China. A range of bilateral issues were discussed; however, I would like to note and emphasise that all those we met with were aware of and passed on their sincere condolences and sympathy in relation to the floods in Australia.

Our hosts were generous in their hospitality and we thank them for that. We were especially pleased to meet the Vice-Chairman of the Hural, Mr Enkhbold Nyamaa, who studied at the University of Sydney courtesy of an AusAID scholarship, and who went out of his way to welcome us and ensure that we met a number of Mozzies—members of the Mongolia Australia Society.

When I presented the report of the delegation to the 18th annual meeting, I mentioned some issues that had arisen regarding the APPF’s rules and their interpretation—which is not surprising in an organisation that is almost 20 years old. Following the meeting, the Honorary President, Mr Nakasone, sought input on possible reforms from all member countries. There is a real need to ensure that the APPF reflects our changing region and remains relevant to all members in both its framework and operations. I made a proposal to the reform process and spoke to that agenda item at the meeting.

It was pleasing to hear that a number of other countries had also commented on the future of the forum, and these comments were consolidated in a report by the Japanese delegation. Further consultation is taking place, with a view to implementing reforms at the 20th annual meeting that is scheduled to be held in Tokyo in January 2012.

In passing, I will say that I hope the situation in Japan has improved sufficiently by then to enable our colleagues in the Japanese Diet to fulfil their wish to host this historic anniversary meeting.

In preparation for the meeting, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra assisted us, as usual, with comprehensive briefing materials. The International and Community Relations Office of the parliament provided logistical support. The delegation appreciates this assistance.

Australia does not have an Embassy in Ulaanbaatar, the embassy in Seoul being responsible for relations with Mongolia. I express the delegation’s thanks to the First Secretary, Mr Charles Adamson. Mr Adamson was in Ulaanbaatar to meet us when we arrived, and he farewelled us at our early morning departure on 27 January. In between, Mr Adamson provided excellent advice on Australia’s interests in Mongolia as well as on other matters that arose during the APPF and bilateral meetings.

Ulaanbaatar is the coldest national capital in the world and the meeting was held in the middle of winter. I will not comment on the challenges of the climate other than to note that our hosts made great efforts to ensure that we were kept as warm as possible, and that it was the coldest Australia Day the members of the delegation are ever likely to experience.

I thank the member for Reid and Senator McEwen for their cooperation and enthusiastic representation of the parliament. I thank the delegation secretary, Catherine Cornish, for her thorough and professional support of the delegation. I thank my senior adviser, Mr Christopher Paterson, for his advice. I believe the delegation represented the parliament effectively.

Mr MURPHY (9:07 AM) —by leave—I am very pleased to join with you, Mr Speaker, to speak about the delegation to the APPF in Ulaanbaatar. Like you, I would like to express our thanks for the warm welcome and the generous hospitality we enjoyed in Mongolia. For me the experience was a very valuable one, not least because of the opportunity to articulate Australia’s trade interests and to observe again the long-term impact of AusAID’s work.

Mr Speaker, as you know, in the plenary I spoke on promoting economic partnership and free trade. This was a useful opportunity for me to discuss Australia’s strategic approach to trade and our sustained work on trade liberalisation. I also spoke about Australia’s approach to trade reform and its contribution to regional structures and work on agreements such as Pacer Plus and the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement. I also noted the work of APEC in building the prosperity of the Asia-Pacific and the significance of APEC economies to Australia’s economy.

Australia’s work on trade liberalisation over many years has brought benefits to Australia and also to many of the countries represented at the APPF. It was pleasing to see acknowledgement of that work. It was also reassuring to see general acceptance of the need to continue a regional commitment to free trade, even as many countries are still recovering from the global financial crisis and may be tempted to adopt protectionist measures.

I refer to another aspect of Australia’s work in the region. As you remarked, Mr Speaker, the Vice-Chairman of the Parliament, Mr Enkhbold, was able to study in Australia because of an AusAID scholarship. Clearly he valued that part of his education and the relationships he established here. Mr Enkhbold has continued his links with Australia through the Mongolia Australia Society which is made up of not just expatriate Australians but also Mongolians who have been able to live and study in Australia, often because of AusAID assistance. It is clear that the capacity that is built and the relationships that are formed through education are of long-term benefit for the recipients and for Australia’s reputation. We appreciated the welcome Mr Enkhbold extended to us, particularly as he was fully occupied with APPF obligations.

We also appreciated the expert assistance of a member of the Mongolian parliament’s secretariat, Mr Amartuvshin Amgalanbayar. Amartuvshin, as you know, studied at Monash University—he is a Mozzie—and we were very fortunate to have him as our liaison officer. Not only was he unperturbed by our accents and customs but also he managed to anticipate just about every possible need and to meet it before we managed to ask about it. As you mentioned, we were also fortunate to have the assistance of Mr Charles Adamson, the First Secretary in Seoul. His knowledge of Mongolia and of many of the issues under consideration was valuable to us throughout the meeting.

It certainly was an Australia Day that we will never forget, the coldest we will ever experience. But I am sure we are very grateful to have been able to spend it with our colleagues in such an interesting place and at the same time to represent the parliament. Finally, Mr Speaker, I would like to thank you for your leadership of the delegation and I would also like to thank your senior adviser, Mr Christopher Paterson, and Ms Catherine Cornish, the delegation secretary, who provided excellent support and assistance to the delegation. They did a first-class job.