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Wednesday, 19 November 1997
Page: 9144


Senator MINCHIN (Special Minister of State and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister) —I table a statement by the Prime Minister on his attendance at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, held in Edinburgh from 24 to 27 October 1997, and a visit to Indonesia from 28 to 29 October 1997. I seek leave to incorporate the statement in Hansard .

Leave granted.

The statement read as follows

The continuing relevance and value of the Commonwealth to its members is well demonstrat ed by the fact that 51 member states attended the Edinburgh meeting, 43 of them represented by their head of government or head of state. It is a particular pleasure to record that Fiji was among those members, taking its place again at the Commonwealth table with the wholehearted support of my government.

This was my first CHOGM. It reinforced for me the strengths of the Commonwealth:

.   it spans a broad diversity of nations, developed and developing, from all corners of the globe and representing a quarter of the world's population

.   its members share a common heritage of language, traditions and values, which forms the basis for the Commonwealth's ability to reach consensus and work constructively on many issues

.   it has perhaps the widest grass-roots support amongst its member countries of any international body, with a vast network of associated organisations bringing together people from all walks of life—these personal and professional links are the lifeblood of the Commonwealth.

These strengths underpin the value of the Commonwealth to Australia. The Commonwealth also complements our key bilateral relationships and our focus on regional forums such as APEC and the South Pacific Forum. It is the principal avenue for our engagement with many Commonwealth countries beyond our immediate region. As the third largest financial contributor to the Commonwealth, Australia has a positive role in promoting the economic and social development of those countries.

The outcomes of the Edinburgh meeting were good—for Australia and for the Commonwealth as a whole. I should say at the outset that the meeting's success—and its harmonious and constructive atmosphere—owed much to the capable chairmanship of Tony Blair. I was pleased to be able to work closely and effectively with him. The United Kingdom was an excellent host, and the people of Edinburgh and Scotland gave us a warm welcome.

For the first time, CHOGM focused its discussions on a theme—Trade Investment and Development: the Road to Commonwealth Prosperity. That economic focus was reinforced by the inaugural Commonwealth Business Forum, held immediately before CHOGM.

I was one of several heads of government asked to address the Forum. It was an opportunity for me to argue the case for Commonwealth member countries to open their markets and economies if they are to maximise the opportunities globalisation can offer.

The outcome of CHOGM's discussions on its economic theme was the Edinburgh Commonwealth Economic Declaration, Promoting Shared Pros perity. The declaration expresses the economic principles shared by Commonwealth members and is the companion to the 1991 Harare Declaration, which set out the core political and human rights principles of the Commonwealth.

The declaration is significant in the degree of common ground reached among developed and developing members on the need for continuing trade liberalisation, the importance of encouraging investment flows—especially through sound macroeconomic policies and financial systems, strong regulatory and supervisory frameworks and good governance—and the crucial role of the private sector in achieving economic growth.

While this good outcome reflected wide support for trade liberalisation, the meeting showed we have some way to go in winning universal acceptance of the value of a new round of global trade negotiations. As I said in my address to the Business Forum, Australia believes a new global trade round should be launched by the end of the century. There is support for a new round among other Commonwealth members—but it is not unanimous.

The declaration recognises that some countries need help in adjusting to and taking advantage of globalisation. governments need to facilitate the sometimes difficult adjustments required, and explain and manage reforms in a way which ensures community understanding and support.

I am pleased to advise the Senate that Commonwealth leaders welcomed and strongly endorsed Australia's initiative to respond to this need by establishing a Trade and Investment Access Facility under the Commonwealth umbrella.

The facility will help Commonwealth members manage the potential economic and social impacts of trade and investment liberalisation. My announcement of Australia's contribution of $1.5 million over three years to start the Facility was backed up by funding pledges from Canada, Britain and New Zealand.

I see this not only as a practical and constructive response to the concerns of many developing countries about the impact of opening up to the global economy but also as a means of helping generate the momentum of trade liberalisation world wide and opening up markets for our exporters.

The outcome on climate change was also a good one for Australia's national interest. Against many expectations and dire predictions of Australia being isolated on this issue, the economic declaration advanced our interests by recognising that

.   as a general principle, the costs of protecting the environment should be borne in accordance with shared and differentiated responsibilities

.   both developed and developing countries have to play a part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in order to solve what is a global problem

.   a successful outcome at the climate change conference in Kyoto would involve realistic and achievable goals.

The Edinburgh meeting also reinforced the importance attached by the Commonwealth to the principles of democracy, good governance and human rights set out in the Harare declaration. Heads of government confirmed the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group's mandate to respond to situations where the Commonwealth's principles are seriously or persistently violated.

We bluntly told Nigeria that it must improve its human rights record and return to democracy. Nigeria remains suspended from the Commonwealth, with the Ministerial Action Group authorised to invoke various measures if it considered these would encourage a return to democracy and respect for human rights. If Nigeria's transition to democratic government is not completed by 1 October 1998, heads of government will consider its expulsion and further sanctions. We also condemned the military coup in Sierra Leone and agreed to continue its suspension from Commonwealth meetings.

The outcome on membership was also positive in maintaining the integrity of the Commonwealth by emphasising the common threads which unite an otherwise diverse group. Leaders agreed that, to qualify for membership, countries should have a constitutional association with an existing member, comply with the Harare declaration and accept Commonwealth norms and conventions.

As well as our contribution to these outcomes, Australia's strong commitment to the Commonwealth was demonstrated in my announcement of an expansion of Australia's assistance for Commonwealth sport.

Australia is the Commonwealth's largest sports donor, seeing the social, health and economic benefits for young people of participation in sport and the important role of sport in strengthening Commonwealth ties.

We will continue the successful Protea sports program in South Africa, which was due to wind up next year, and work with South Africa to extend it to other parts of Commonwealth Africa, with funding of $1.8 million. We will also extend support for junior sports development in the Caribbean, with funding of $1.35 million. And, subject to a review, our sports development program in the South Pacific, ASP2000, will be extended until 2006.

Australia's support for the Commonwealth was also expressed in my offer—which was warmly accepted—that Australia host CHOGM in 2001. It is very fitting that Australia's Commonwealth friends will be able to join us in our celebration of the centenary of federation.

One of the great values of CHOGM is the opportunity it provides for formal and informal discussions with a range of leaders, establishing the personal contacts which are such an important part of strong bilateral relationships. It was, of course, a particular pleasure to meet President Mandela for the first time—he kindly invited me to visit South Africa and I reiterated how welcome a visitor he would be in Australia.

My discussions with Mr Blair in London, building on our meeting earlier this year, set the tone for our close cooperation in Edinburgh on a number of issues, including climate change. We also had a useful exchange on what is one of the few irritants in our bilateral relationship—the indexation of pensions paid to former residents of the United Kingdom who now live in Australia.

My meetings with Mr Goh Chok Tong and Dr Mahathir allowed a very useful discussion about the financial instability in Southeast Asia, including appropriate action at the forthcoming APEC leaders meeting. It was also good in the lead up to the Vancouver meeting to talk with this year's chair of APEC, the Canadian prime minister, Mr Chretien, and to discuss the Ottawa Treaty on landmines which Mr Downer will sign on behalf of Australia.

My meeting in Edinburgh with Mr Haiveta, the deputy prime minister of Papua New Guinea, allowed me to hear about the drought afflicting our closest neighbour. I repeated Australia's determination to help the government and people of Papua New Guinea get through this very difficult period.

Madam President, my subsequent visit to Indonesia—my second as Prime Minister—coincided with developments of crucial importance to Indonesia's future, and to the future of the region.

Given the timing, it was both inevitable and in keeping with Australia's deep and abiding interests in the bilateral relationship that the financial situation in the region and its implications for Indonesia were a focus of my meetings with President Soeharto and his ministers.

My offer that Australia was ready to participate in any IMF package to assist Indonesia underlined the strength of our commitment, as a friend and neighbour, both to the partnership with Indonesia, and to the Asia Pacific region whose future Australia and Indonesia share.

Australia is not a fair-weather friend. Our offer showed that we are a reliable neighbour and member of our regional community, prepared to help out during difficult periods. Moreover, our response has been warmly welcomed by leaders in the region and demonstrates Australia should be confident about her place in our region and the regard in which it is held by her neighbours.

It is in our national interests that the significant economic progress made by Indonesia over the last thirty years—progress which has meant better lives for the majority of Indonesian people—is continued. Stability and prosperity in Indonesia and wider region are important for Australia, for our economic prospects, and for the living standards and jobs of Australians.

The government is confident that the measures Indonesia has agreed with the IMF will help stabilise Indonesia's currency and lay the basis for good growth in the medium term. While I was in Jakarta I launched a joint venture between the Commonwealth Bank and Bank Internationale Indonesia. This enterprise is a timely and strong expression of confidence in Indonesia's economic future.

It is also a measure of the growing commitment of the private sectors in both our countries to work together for mutual benefit. Our commercial relations with Indonesia are now very significant and growing apace. Our two-way merchandise trade grew by 20 per cent last financial year to $5.2 billion, and two—way services trade grew to $1.3 billion in 1996.

The numbers of Indonesians and Australians travelling in both directions for business, education and tourism are also growing strongly. About 360, 000 Australians visited Indonesia in 1996 and 150,000 Indonesians came here. There were more than 16,000 Indonesians studying here in 1996. Those contacts are deepening understanding between our two countries.

Our commitment to strengthening the relationship with Indonesia was also marked during the visit by my announcement of

.   the opening of six new honorary consulates, four of them in eastern Indonesia—the region covered by the Australian Indonesian Development Area—which will give a boost to our trade and investment links

.   the provision of a further $44 million over the next five years to fund short-term training courses under the aid program

.   a further contribution of $360,000 for ground fire-fighting training and equipment for the Indonesian fire services—as well as funds for drought relief in Irian Jaya announced by Mr Downer.

The strong, constructive and broad-based relationship we have with Indonesia provides a solid foundation for us to talk about any differences which we have. On the issue of East Timor I said that, while Australia recognised Indonesian sovereignty over East Timor and would act consistently with that, we thought it desirable both for Indonesia and for Indonesia's friends, for further progress to be made in dialogue and greater control over their own affairs by East Timorese.

We talked about the need to agree expeditiously arrangements fair to both sides on the exploitation of LNG in the Timor Gap. Progress was subsequently made at a meeting between Senator Parer and his Indonesian counterpart, Mr Sudjana.

President Soeharto and I also discussed the forthcoming APEC meeting and the importance of working together to strengthen APEC and achieve its goals of free and open trade and investment.

I would like to conclude by expressing my appreciation to President Soeharto and his government for their kind welcome and hospitality during my visit. I present a copy of my ministerial statement.

Motion (by Senator Chris Evans)—by leave—proposed:

That the Senate take note of the document.