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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9218


Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (22:25):I suspect I am one of only a few members of this parliament who can take a 25-hour trip by plane to a country on the other side of the world, walk down the main street of a town in the south of that country and within an hour met six of his constituents, including two who worked on polling booths for him in the previous election. The town was Bitola in Macedonia. During the last week of the parliamentary recess I visited the republic as part of a self-funded study tour. The purpose of the trip was to inform myself of the issues and circumstances of that country which affect around 26,000 people from the Illawarra. I was accompanied by a representative of the Illawarra Macedonian Community, Mr Ljupco Stefanovski, to whom I am eternally grateful for his excellent translation skills.

I spent two days in the capital, Skopje, and had the great privilege of meeting with senior government representatives. I met the President of the Republic, His Excellency, Mr George lvanov, and spent an hour discussing a mutual passion for history, politics and the culture of the Balkans. I met with the Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Mr Zoran Stavreski, to discuss the country's economic priorities and the trading circumstances facing his country and Europe. I renewed my acquaintance with the President of the Assembly, His Excellency, Mr Trajko Veljanoski, who visited Australia as part of a parliamentary delegation earlier this year. I met with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Nikola Poposki, and discussed the country's focus on education as the tool for development—it is working. Ninety-eight per cent of students are completing secondary school now and 95 per cent of those people are furthering their tertiary education in some form—crucial for a country which seeks to skip jump into development.

I renewed my acquaintance with Mr Illija Dimovski, Chairman of the Macedonian Parliamentary Group for Cooperation with Australia and New Zealand, and discussed the possibilities for scholarships and education exchanges with the University of Wollongong.

I visited the Museum of Macedonian Struggle for Statehood, Mother Teresa Memorial House and Macedonia Square, where I saw an array of impressive, new public works focused on the country's history and instilling national pride. I spent a day in Ohrid, the sister city of my Wollongong City Council, and met with Dusko Jaovceski, President of the City of Ohrid. We discussed the economic and social issues affecting the region, and the challenges facing a town which is a popular tourist destination for thousands of Europeans. We toured many cultural and historical monuments, including the Church of St Clement, the Church of Saint Sophia and the beautiful Lake Ohrid.

St Iliya's Day, 2 August, is a special day in the republic, a national holiday which commemorates the Linden Uprising of 1903, which started in Bitola and Ohrid but quickly spread around the region. On 3 August 1903 the Krusevo Republic was proclaimed in Krusevo in defiance of the Turkish empire. It lasted only 10 days as the rebels were vastly outnumbered and overpowered by the Turkish imperial forces, but here began the quest for nationhood.

With parallels to our own Anzac Day, the Macedonians celebrate this day despite the military losses. I joined with them, attending the ceremony that was presided over by the President of the Republic and the representatives of over 10 countries and laid a wreath at the shrine to the martyrs.

I also visited Bitola and met with the Mayor of Bitola, Mr Vladimir Taleski, where we discussed the economic development opportunities in the region.

There are deep links between our two countries—a point made recently by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr, in a special statement on the matter. The principal focus for the Republic of Macedonia is simply to provide security and prosperity for its people, the integrity of its borders and participation in trade and commerce with Europe. For this, entry into NATO and the EU are critical.

There is the ongoing and ever-present dispute with Greece over the name 'Macedonia', which needs to be resolved and swiftly. I understand there are strongly held views. The republic is about to celebrate its 22nd birthday. The Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia existed for 48 years. It would be a matter of great embarrassment if we are still referring to the republic by its unfortunate prefix for longer than the existence of the former communist federation itself.

Debate interrupted.

House adjourned at 22:31