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Monday, 1 December 2003
Page: 23286

Mr CAMERON THOMPSON (1:40 PM) —by leave—Mr Deputy Speaker Causley, I present the report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to Sri Lanka and to the 49th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference, held in Bangladesh from 1 to 12 October 2003.

Mr CAMERON THOMPSON —The visit to Sri Lanka was very important and very well timed for events that followed. It has been eight years since there was an Australian parliamentary delegation to Sri Lanka. Our group included senators Ray and Bishop, as well as the delegation leader, Senator Watson, me and the delegation secretary, Ms Robyn McClelland. During our visit the committee met with the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, Ranil Wikremesinghe, from the UNF coalition. We met a range of ministers in a country that, while in population is the same size as Australia—19.7 million people—has a diverse ethnic content. Seventy-four per cent are Sinhalese, 18 per cent are Tamil and seven per cent are Muslim.

There has been a civil war since 1983. The war involves the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, led by Prabhakaran. That group now controls the eastern part of the island from Trincomalee to Batticaloa. The LTTE has engaged suicide bombers and child soldiers to undertake a range of attacks across the island of Sri Lanka, culminating in the 2001 attack on the main airport at Colombo. A cease-fire has been in place since 22 February 2002. It seemed apparent to all members of the delegation that what is important now is that there be a concerted effort to deliver to the population a peace dividend.

During our time in Sri Lanka we visited Jaffna, an area formerly very troubled and still in a lot of difficulty, with a million landmines in place. I note that the Sri Lankan army has given up its maps of landmine locations to the United Nations, but the whole country is walking on a knife edge. Subsequent events in which the President of the country, Mrs Kumaratunga, withdrew the commissions of various ministers and intervened in a fairly spectacular fashion in the activities of the government really underlined the very serious nature of things. I note that the cease-fire continues to hold. Not only is it important that the community and the government deliver that peace dividend to help drive forward the good situation there in Sri Lanka; external actions can also have an impact there. For example, the declaration of the LTTE as a terrorist organisation in the wake of September 11 has helped reduce the flow of funds to that organisation.

I now turn to our visit to Bangladesh. We were attending the 49th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference between 4 and 12 October. Amongst our numbers, Senators Ray and Watson led discussion during the various workshops. Those workshops included a consideration of antiterror legislation, a review of the Doha Round, the human rights versus cultural diversity debate, the Millennium Development Goals and where they are headed, peacekeeping mechanisms, and the idea of a stronger partnership between parliament and the executive in democratic regimes. These were all canvassed at some length. There were also three plenary sessions. We were joined in our debates by various representatives of state parliaments from across the Commonwealth of Australia. As an aside, I should point out that an incident in which various flags, including the Australian flag, were hoisted upside down was rectified by members of our delegation. It was a most informative gathering and a good outcome for all concerned.

The SPEAKER —Order! It being 1.45 p.m., the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 101. The debate may be resumed at a later hour and the member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.