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Monday, 3 November 2003
Page: 21705


Mr ADAMS (12:31 PM) —I present the report of the Australian Parliamentary Delegation to East Timor, 3 to 5 September 2003. It was a great privilege to be the deputy leader and to be part of the first official parliamentary delegation to East Timor since independence. We were honoured by the extraordinary sitting of East Timor's national parliament. Although parliament was technically in recess, over 50 parliamentarians came and shared the day with us and showed us over the new house of parliament, which was built as a gift from Australia to the world's newest democracy. The dialogues that were held concentrated on the political and economic future of the country. The president, Xanana Gusmao, was most gracious and hospitable in inviting the delegation to his office, which is in a burnt-out building and has been only marginally tidied up. Living and working in the same conditions as his people showed he has an affinity with the past as well as is looking with them to future. He is obviously very much loved by his people.

The country is still in a very raw state; things are taking time to rebuild and redevelop, including the infrastructure and the culture. There is a need to build East Timor's institutions and self-reliance to bring the country's skills up to a level where it can be autonomous. There was some concern shown for the impending withdrawal of the UN Mission of Support because of the state of transition, but it is hoped that East Timor will be able to have more extended assistance to allow the easing out of UNIMET and the support for the local institutions to take over.

So much is still to be done. There is still a culture of dependence—the entrepreneurial spirit is missing. Agriculture, which is so vital to East Timor's economy, is still really at a subsistence level. Maize, cassava, rice and sweet potatoes dominate, although some coffee is again being developed as a cash crop. There are still concerns about food security, and farmers would benefit from some exchange programs and exposure to new methods of farming—for example, we saw the amount of rice that is lost during processing. Several rice and seed trials are under way with Australian input, which we hope will increase productivity. Although the country has taken huge steps since 1999, we were concerned about the level of support that will be provided after the withdrawal of the UN. It is clear that ongoing assistance will be needed from Australia to help East Timor continue its leap into the 21st century.

Our visit also included an inspection of the Australian Defence Force contingent, which had us visiting the base in Dili as well as the forward operating bases at Moleana, Maliana and Junction Point Alpha. I must say that I was very impressed with the friendliness yet complete professionalism of our young men and women over there. The forward bases are fairly basic, yet there is an enormous amount of enthusiasm shown for the job that is being done. The success of the Australian contingent in East Timor is a testament to the professionalism and the training of these troops. With the UN leaving in 2004, the delegation felt that there was room for an expanded effort in the areas of public information—such as information gathering—capacity building and community liaison.

There were also a number of visits to community projects, which had us pitching over some very basic road infrastructure—luckily there was not a lot of traffic around, otherwise it would have been much worse. We were greeted very cordially by villagers. We saw young ones being schooled in the dances of their country and they accompanied themselves on local percussion instruments. It was noted that there is a need to assist East Timor in recapturing their culture, particularly given East Timor's history of colonisation and occupation. It is a young nation: approximately 50 per cent of the pop-ulation are under 25 years of age. Recapturing culture will be crucial to building the nation's consciousness and effective community development.

I would like to thank the embassy staff in Dili, particularly those who organised the visits outside the normal program, which included visits to the orphanage, the memorial swimming pool at Dara and the Street Children's Art school. Thanks also to our hosts, the East Timorese, who were very patient and understanding in answering all our questions. I would also like to thank Adam Cunningham and my two colleagues Bill and Peter. (Time expired)