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Monday, 24 June 2013
Page: 6619

Mr DANBY (Melbourne PortsParliamentary Secretary for the Arts) (11:22): I present reports of the delegation of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade to Timor-Leste and Indonesia. I present this report as leader of the delegation and not as Parliamentary Secretary for the Arts.

The principal purpose of the delegation's visit, which took place between 7 and 11 November 2011, was to meet and conduct discussions with counterpart committees in the national parliaments of Indonesia and Timor-Leste. In doing so, the committee sought to deepen the connection with members of these parliaments and to help build Australia's relationship with Indonesia and Timor-Leste.

The visit followed the proposal made by the Presiding Officers in 2008 for an exchange program with the foreign affairs committee of the Indonesian parliament, Komisi I, and was first recommended in the committee's report on its major inquiry into Australia's relationship with Indonesia, entitled Near neighboursgood neighbours.The Near neighbours report noted that such meetings would represent a 'valuable connection' between the foreign affairs committees of both parliaments and would allow for both parties to air concerns, exchange viewpoints and, on occasions, clarify misunderstandings. The delegation's visit provided exactly this opportunity for connections between parliamentarians to be established or renewed, concerns to be aired and viewpoints to be exchanged.

In Indonesia, the committee held discussions with the chair and members of Komisi I—or Commission I—the Indonesian parliament's committee on foreign affairs and defence, and Commission VI, the committee on trade investment and industry. Our discussions traversed issues such as the suspension of live cattle exports, Indonesia's recently passed State Intelligence Law and de-radicalisation across the archipelago, the people-smuggling issue and the positive role Indonesia aspires to play in developments in the Middle East, particularly as a model for a successful transition to democracy. Encouragingly, Indonesia's counterparts stated with confidence that, although the presidential election in 2014 may be more of a test for the country's nascent democracy than other recent elections, there was, 'No road back to the authoritarian past.' The delegation was pleased to note that, despite the irritants which arise from time to time, the relationship with Indonesia is now of such breadth and depth that it can withstand such challenges.

Nevertheless, the delegation is of the view that the Australian government should, at all times, adopt a respectful communication and dialogue with both Indonesia and Timor Leste. In Timor Leste, the committee held discussions with the chair and many members of Commission B—the parliament's committee on foreign affairs, defence and national security. Issues included maritime security and illegal fishing, the development of the Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields, Timor Leste's need for foreign investment, employment and other challenges. Discussions were held in a very respectful atmosphere, and I think the people in the committee were very pleased that we had come to them. Among the other appointments, the committee had the honour of meeting the President of Timor Leste, his excellency Jose Ramos-Horta. The president spoke very candidly to us, including about priorities of Australia's development assistance, greater access for the Timorese people to our Seasonal Worker Program and full vocational training in Australia, which would be clearly welcomed, as expressed by him, as would assistance to encourage investment in ongoing defence and police training support.

I am pleased to note that, following the visit, the committee commenced an inquiry into Australia's relationship with Timor Leste. This is timely, as the UN mandate has now expired and the Australian-led International Stabilisation Force recently departed the country. It is an appropriate time to be recasting the relationship in Timor Leste's post-independence era. In both Timor Leste and Indonesia, the delegation was pleased to be able to visit a number of aid projects funded by Australia, such as sanitation projects in Indonesia, and support for agriculture, water and food initiatives in Timor Leste. These projects are manifestly assisting in their respective country's development and improving the lives of ordinary people. Our assistance helps create tremendous goodwill towards Australia in these countries. A theme which emerged in both Timor Leste and Indonesia was that Australia's trade and investment relationship with both countries is seriously underdone, particularly given the significance of the broader relationship between our countries. The delegation believes that this issue must be given greater attention.

On behalf of the delegation, I thank our counterparts in the parliaments of Timor Leste and Indonesia, who made time to hold constructive discussions with us. I also thank our ambassadors, their staff and the officials of various government agencies stationed in Indonesia and Timor Leste for their invaluable assistance. I also thank the secretary of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Mr Jerome Brown.

The delegation hopes that the exchanges between foreign affairs, defence and trade committees in Australia, Indonesia and Timor Leste will take place on a regular basis and continue to assist with the strengthening of bonds of friendship and facilitating greater understanding between our countries. There is probably nothing more important for Australia than our relationship with Indonesia, in particular. They are an enormous nation of tens of millions of people, mainly of the Muslim faith, and it is no coincidence that we have good and peaceful relations with them. Any moves to jeopardise that ought to be taken very seriously by the Australian people.

In accordance with standing order 39(f) the report was made a parliamentary paper.