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Monday, 23 June 2003
Page: 17174

Mr KING (2:31 PM) —My question is also directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister inform the House of recent participation by Australia, working in cooperation with other countries in our region, to address issues of security concern?

Opposition members interjecting

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —The constant flow of interjections does make it a little difficult to hear or make yourself heard.

Mr Sawford —He has lost the plot.

The SPEAKER —The member for Port Adelaide is warned! I point out to all members of the House their obligations, and to the minister his obligation to address his remarks through the chair.

The SPEAKER —The member for Wills is warned!

Mr DOWNER —I thank the honourable member for Wentworth for his question and I appreciate his interest in these issues. The most significant outcome from the ASEAN Regional Forum ministerial meeting on 18 June was a strong unequivocal message to North Korea—one of the 23 participants in the ASEAN Regional Forum—that it must give up its nuclear ambitions, resume cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency and reverse its decision to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The chairman's statement from the meeting and numerous statements at the meeting by ASEAN Regional Forum foreign ministers did reflect the depth of concern felt in the region about the North Korean issue. The strength and direct nature of these messages was unprecedented in the 10-year history of the ASEAN Regional Forum. I am glad to say that Australia was able to play a leading role in these discussions.

Terrorism was, not surprisingly, yet again this year a major focus of the ASEAN Regional Forum's discussion. This was the first such ministerial meeting since the Bali bombing. One of the points that I have made all along on this issue of terrorism is that it is very important that the ASEAN Regional Forum move beyond just pious and appropriate statements and that the countries of the region continue to build their activism in addressing this issue. We have done that through our memoranda of understanding; some of the ASEAN countries have done likewise with each other. But there is still a long way to go in terms of strengthening that cooperation between the countries of the region.

Finally, while there are differences of approach on the issue of Burma between members of the ASEAN Regional Forum, there is not a difference of objective. The fact is that I was able, like a number of other foreign ministers, to use my bilateral meeting with the Burmese Foreign Minister, Win Aung, to reiterate Australia's deep concern about the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of the National League for Democracy and to call for her immediate release. I was actually quite interested that the Burmese Foreign Minister, having been hit with these representations from a number of countries, was able to say that he would take these messages straight back to Rangoon and that he thought the leadership there would be interested to hear what the tone of this important international conference was.

In conclusion to the member's question, there is a lot of interest in ASEAN and a lot of enthusiasm among the dialogue partners as well for the issues that we are very engaged in: North Korea, terrorism and making sure those particular human rights concerns in the region—concerns such as Burma—are constructively, aggressively and hopefully in the fullness of time—though not so far so good—properly addressed.