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Tuesday, 8 December 1998
Page: 1652

Mr PYNE (10:50 PM) —I would guide the member for Bass to the Attorney-General's answer to a question in parliament yesterday on the federal magistracy. I think it will be clear to her that another Family Court judge is not required in Launceston because the federal magistracy will deal with the backlog of cases in both the Family Court and the Federal Court. But that is not the reason that I rise tonight.

I rise to talk a little bit about a trip I recently took to Bangladesh where I was the guest of the National Democratic Institute, an organisation funded by the Congress of the United States, designed to promote democracy throughout the world. It is an offshoot of one of the main political parties there, but is independent of that party and funded by the United States Congress. I am sure other members in the House are familiar with it, in particular, my friend Mr Jenkins.

I was sent to Bangladesh to do a feasibility study, an assessment, of whether it would be a useful exercise for the NDI to conduct a Democracies in Parliamentary Parties Program or a Democracy in Political Institutions Program in that country.

People in this House who are familiar with Bangladesh would know that Bangladesh has had a chequered history of democracy since its inception in 1971 when it broke from Pakistan and became the state of Bangladesh. It had a democratic government for the first three years of its existence but after that time Sheikh Mujibur was assassinated and the government was taken over by the military. They remained in power until 1991. In 1991, democratic elections were held and political parties were elected. Since that time they have been strong proponents of democratic institutions.

In my time in Bangladesh I discovered that they are a very homogenous population. Over 90 per cent are Muslim, they all speak Bangla and they are essentially East Bengalese people who work as a very confident country. In Australia we hear so many horror stories about floods and famine in Bangladesh, but the truth is that, while that does happen, they are a confident country that believes they have a strong destiny and great future. While the floods bring famine and destruction, they also bring three crops a year in Bangladesh, so that they are in fact not starving after the latest two months of floods in Bangladesh and are making their way in difficult times.

They are an interesting democracy because the current Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, is the daughter of Sheikh Mujibur who was assassinated in 1975 and the Leader of the Opposition is Begum Khaleda Zia, the widow of the General Zia who was assassinated in 1981 by another military coup. This makes for a very interesting cauldron of events in Bangladesh and causes the relationship between the two major parties—the Bangladeshi Nationalist Party and the Awami League to be most interesting.

Mr Melham interjecting

Mr PYNE —Yes, terrible faction brawls. The interesting thing about that is that the NDI sent me there to discover, with Dal Gan Lee, a Korean professor, and Peter Manikas and Makram Ouiss from the National Democratic Institute, whether we could promote some sense of democracy within the political parties in Bangladesh and also some sort of cooperation between the two major parties—where they could use the parliamentary institutions themselves to create a sense of ownership of the parliamentary system and where they could just be good representatives rather than worrying about anything further than that—so that they would feel that by just being members of parliament, by just representing their electorates, by achieving things for their constituents and for Bangladesh would be a real contribution to Bangladeshi national life.

We met with many of the people there, including the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, a number of ministers, representatives of the Jamat Islam Party, the Bangladeshi Nationalist Party, the Awami League and the Jatiya Party. We resolved that a program would be useful in Bangladesh, particularly in promoting democracy within the political parties there and also in promoting the use of parliamentary institutions—standing committees of the parliament, a speaker's panel, appointing a deputy speaker from the opposition—in order to promote a sense of cooperation between the political parties and that a number of measures within the political parties, such as having political party committees with chairmen and deputy chairmen, would be useful to Bangladeshi national life. (Time expired)