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Wednesday, 2 December 1998
Page: 1150

Dr SOUTHCOTT —My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Can the minister inform the House whether the Australian government is prepared to offer assistance to the Indonesian government with the organisation of its elections next year?

Mr DOWNER (Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for his question and recognise the great interest the honourable member has in foreign affairs issues and, in particular, developments in East Asia. The Australian government clearly wants the elections that will take place in May or June of next year in Indonesia to be truly successful elections. We are prepared to offer practical assistance to see that those elections are successful. Australia, after all, is one of the world's oldest continuously operating democracies, and we have a lot to offer.

The Australian Electoral Commissioner, Mr Bill Gray, recently led a team to Jakarta to undertake a preliminary needs assessment. Our experience in holding elections means we are well placed to assist in areas such as computerisation of the compilation of results and practical planning procedures for voting. After all, there will be something like 130 million people voting in the Indonesian elections, and that will require somewhere in the vicinity of 350,000 polling booths.

But it will not just be a question of providing Indonesia with technical assistance. For the elections to be successful there has to be a calm and confident domestic political environment. We will be consulting Indonesia on the possibility of developing a code of conduct for the elections to provide a framework for resolution of differences and prevention of escalation of disputes among the parties.

It is crucial that all parties in the upcoming elections in Indonesia work closely together for both a fair and a peaceful election. Australia is ready to do what it can not just to help Indonesia through its economic crisis but to help Indonesia through this difficult transition to genuinely democratic administration. Through the work of the Australian Electoral Commission and through our development assistance agencies as well as our diplomatic network, we will be providing whatever assistance we usefully can.