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Thursday, 1 March 2018
Page: 2429


The SPEAKER (09:31): I wish to make a brief report to the House on the 24th Conference of Speakers and Presiding Officers of the Commonwealth in the Seychelles between 8 and 11 January this year, which I attended with the Clerk. Held every two years, CSPOC, as it's known, is a valuable opportunity to meet and discuss issues of shared interest with over 50 presiding officers from the national parliaments of Commonwealth member states.

The agenda for this year's conference included keynote addresses on strengthening parliamentary democracy, the use of technology to support members and house business, strengthening parliamentary research capacity and emerging security issues for parliamentarians. The keynotes were followed by useful workshop discussions, including one led by me on security. It was most interesting to hear from Commonwealth colleagues about security issues they're facing in their parliaments and the steps they're taking to address them.

I also met with the Speaker of the National Assembly of Mauritius to discuss strengthening links between our national parliaments and with Australians living in the Seychelles who assist our High Commission in Mauritius with consular matters on a voluntary basis. I visited the Bel Ombre school, a primary school that's twinned with Nerang State School on the Gold Coast for the Commonwealth Games.

Following CSPOC, I travelled to Mauritius for a three-day visit marking the 50th anniversary of Mauritian independence, which falls this year. Mauritius will celebrate its national day in this special anniversary year on 12 March, next Monday week.

It's a pleasure to welcome the Mauritian High Commissioner to Australia, Her Excellency Ms Christelle Sohun, to the chamber today and also the foreign minister, who's here to meet with her. My visit to Mauritius was the first by an Australian Speaker. Our countries enjoy a longstanding, warm relationship based on shared values, democracy, the rule of law and an interest in developing commercial ties. Australia's the home to a large Mauritian diaspora of over 2,000 students. Two-way trade between Australia and Mauritius stood at more than $400 million last year, and over 100 Australian companies are operating there.

Whilst in Mauritius I was delighted to have the opportunity to meet both the President and the Prime Minister, who spoke warmly of the relationship between our two countries. I also visited the Dukesbridge preparatory school, founded by Australian Ms Shannon Briggs and her Mauritian husband, and the school is also twinned with a school on the Gold Coast in the lead-up to the Commonwealth Games. I also had the pleasure to meet with the Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly and the chair and two members of their Public Accounts Committee to discuss the work of their committee and ours, and attended a high-level business round table organised by the Mauritius Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

I was also pleased to meet with Mauritian-based representatives of the Indian Ocean Rim Association and the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub to discuss issues relating to environmental sustainability initiatives and the ocean economy. I also met with the vice-chancellor of the University of Mauritius and gave a presentation to staff and students on democracy and the role of the Speaker, after which I attended the reception hosted by the Australian high commissioner to celebrate Australian-Mauritian links.

I also paid my respects at the grave of naval bandsman Arnold Partington, an Australian serviceman who died during World War II and is buried in the Commonwealth war graves section of Phoenix Cemetery, after which we toured a world heritage site, a museum commemorating the arrival of indentured labourers on Mauritius during the 19th century. I then met with representatives of Austral Fisheries, an innovative Australian company specialising in sustainable fishing operating out of Port Louis. We then visited a women's halfway home outside Port Louis, operated by African NGO Gender Links, and presented a cheque equivalent to over A$14,000 raised by local supporters, including the Australian High Commission.

Your Excellency, please accept the congratulations of the House and convey our best wishes to the government and people of Mauritius on this significant anniversary. We look forward to further strengthening our parliament-to-parliament links as we move towards the 50th anniversary of diplomatic relations with Mauritius. I'm pleased the Minister for Foreign Affairs is here to meet with you in a minute or so. While she's here, I also wish to record my appreciation to the Australian High Commissioner to Mauritius, Ms Jenny Dee, and her staff for their work in developing the program for the visit and for their very able assistance while I was there. The foreign minister, Jenny and her team did a fantastic job and made the visit the success it was. I thank the House, and I thank the foreign minister for coming here this morning for this statement.