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Monday, 24 March 2003
Page: 9977

Senator FORSHAW (3:56 PM) —by leave—I present the report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, which took place from 18 to 29 November 2002. I seek leave to move a motion to take note of the document.

Leave granted.

Senator FORSHAW —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I am pleased to present this report of the Australian parliamentary delegation which visited the United Kingdom and the Netherlands in November last year. Mr David Hawker, the member for Wannon, who led the delegation, is today tabling this report in the House of Representatives and making an almost identical speech to the one that I am about to give.

During the two-week visit, our delegation was privileged to meet with a number of ministers, various senior government officials, members of parliamentary committees, and civic and business leaders in both countries. This report details the activities of the delegation and summarises the discussions held during the visits.

Productive exchanges took place with ministers in both countries on a range of important issues. Some of those, without being exhaustive, included such important matters to Australia and to both these European nations as agricultural reform within the European Union and the potential impact of reforms that may arise from the proposed expansion of the European Union. The delegation also held discussions with senior officials on current issues, such as the fight against terrorism, asylum seekers, airport and border security, and the situation then prevailing in Iraq and the debates in the United Nations, as well as on more domestic issues—but still of international importance— such as the management of foot-and-mouth disease outbreaks. A number of social and health policy issues including drugs, euthanasia, genetically modified organisms, and human cloning and stem cell research were also the subject of informative and sometimes, might I say, spirited discussion.

The first stage of the delegation's program was a visit to the United Kingdom. A warm welcome was extended to the delegation by the United Kingdom parliament, including by the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Rt Hon. Michael Martin MP. Members of the delegation were very honoured to be guests of the parliament at question time in both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. During our visit to the United Kingdom, we were fortunate to meet with representatives from the Corporation of London and the London Stock Exchange. Notable from those meetings was the importance placed upon maintaining London as a world-class city with first-class services and security in order to retain its reputation as a leading international banking and financial centre. I might add, having visited London on a number of occasions, I cannot recall it looking so sprightly and pristine. Certainly the follow-on from the jubilee celebrations had much to do with that, and there was a lot of activity within the city with various infrastructure works taking place.

The delegation was invited to the City of York to meet with the city council and county council representatives. We discussed with them the impact of parliament's modernisation plans for local government and the increasing difficulties that local governments are facing in funding local services. At the time we were meeting, the dispute with respect to firefighting services throughout the United Kingdom was occurring. It was interesting to discuss that with people, particularly with regard to the various levels of responsibility between the national government and the various councils. We also met with officials from York University, who outlined their highly successful and innovative approach to promoting and supporting the creation of commercial enterprises, particularly in the areas of science and information technology research. The delegation was appreciative of the interesting program hosted by the United Kingdom parliament through the auspices of the United Kingdom branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and of the generous and warm hospitality extended to us during our visit.

Our visit to the Netherlands coincided with the lead-up to the national election following the collapse of the coalition government and the assassination of Mr Pim Fortuyn, the leader of the Lijst Pim Fortuyn. However, despite the fact that the government was in caretaker mode, these political developments did not impact at all on the success of the visits. Members of the delegation were received warmly by members of the Dutch parliament, and the fact that this political dynamic was occurring in the Netherlands at the time meant that we had a first-hand opportunity to discuss those developments with members of the parliament. A feature of our visit to the Netherlands were the discussions with caretaker ministers and senior government officials on the Netherlands's advanced policies on drug use and euthanasia, in addition to such issues as the forthcoming elections, European expansion and the Iraq situation.

The delegation attended question time in the House of Representatives and we were formally welcomed to the chamber by the president. Given the very warm welcome we received from members and officials of the Netherlands parliament, we were delighted to extend an invitation on behalf of the Parliament of Australia to the President of the Tweede Kamer, the House of Representatives, Mr Frans Weisglas, and to the President of the Eerste Kamer, the Senate, Mr Gerrit Braks, to undertake a reciprocal bilateral visit to Australia.

During our visit to the Netherlands we also had the opportunity to hold discussions with business representatives and authorities from the Amsterdam Schiphol Airport about airport security, noise abatement, land acquisition and its approach to creating airport cities. Of particular interest was the briefing and demonstration of biometric iris scanning for processing passengers. Schiphol Airport was the first airport to introduce this measure as a means of fast-tracking travellers through the airport security arrangements. We were also honoured during our visit to the Netherlands to visit the site of the memorial to the crew of the Lancaster JB 659 0F-J of No. 97 Squadron, who lost their lives when shot down over Amsterdam in 1944. Two of the seven crewmen were Australians. Members of the delegation laid tributes at the cemetery in honour of the crewmen.

In conclusion, I sincerely thank the leader of the delegation, Mr David Hawker, for the way in which he led the delegation. He went out of his way to include all members of the delegation in the discussions at all times and was a very hospitable and friendly leader of the group. I also express my thanks, as the deputy leader of the delegation, to the other members, namely Senator Steve Hutchins and Senator Bill Heffernan, Mr Bob Baldwin, the member for Paterson, and Mr Anthony Albanese, the member for Grayndler. I believe we all had a cooperative spirit during the visit, and the input of all members made it highly successful as well as enjoyable.

I am sure I speak for the other delegation members when I say that we received excellent support from the High Commissioner to London, His Excellency Mr Michael L'Estrange, and from the Ambassador to the Netherlands, His Excellency Mr Peter Hussin, and their respective staff. I thank the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Austrade staff here in Australia and overseas for their informative briefings. I thank the Parliamentary Library for the support and advice we received. I would also like to mention the great work done by the Parliamentary Relations Office and, in particular, Mr Russell Chafer, to coordinate the visit.

Finally, I give a special vote of thanks to Ms Denise Gordon, the delegation secretary. She kept us on time for our appointments, and her diligence and hard work helped to make the visit both informative and successful. I am sure all senators understand that you cannot undertake a trip like this without having a diligent secretary to make those arrangements. I thank the parliament for giving us the opportunity to undertake this visit.