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Tuesday, 8 May 1984
Page: 1755

Senator COATES —by leave-I present the official report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea in 1983. I seek leave to make a statement on the report.

Leave granted.

Senator COATES —Half way through last year, the Parliament sent a delegation to three South Pacific countries. It was to include Tuvalu and Kiribati as well as Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea, but unfortunately the travel arrangements that would have been necessary just could not be organised to enable us to include those two smaller independent countries as well. It was a great shame to discover that this was the first official parliamentary delegation to Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea since those three countries gained independence over the past 10 years or so. I think Australia should be a little guilty that it took this time before there was a visit.

I suggest that there should be visits from both directions, that is, that we should receive visits from the parliaments of these Pacific nations as well as them receiving visits from us, so that there is a real two-way relationship between the parliaments involved. Unfortunately, the countries concerned cannot afford that visit. It may be that Australia should provide assistance for occasional visits from representatives of those parliaments to this country so that there is indeed a two-way relationship.

When this report was tabled in the House of Representatives on Friday by the leader of the delegation, Barry Cunningham, another member of the delegation, Michael Maher, referred to the deprivation and exhaustion involved in the trip. I can assure the Senate that it was not quite as bad as that. There certainly was a very constant amount of travelling and official engagements but it was not quite the sort of deprivation that Mr Maher painted it. It was of value to all of us, expanding our knowledge of the region, proving the goodwill between Australia and those countries which see themselves very much related to Australia. They refer to themselves as being in Australia's backyard and hope that they are not forgotten because of that relationship. I assured those to whom I spoke who used that expression that Australians generally tend to favour their backyard to their frontyard and that they should be honoured because of that. But I think it still needs to be emphasised that Australia should acknowledge its relationship with its Pacific neighbours much more than is usually done.

Of course, one of the big issues that continually arose was the question of aid . At about the same time the Jackson Committee to Review the Australian Overseas Aid Program was visiting those countries discussing the question of our aid. I think all of us who were involved in the delegation will be very much looking forward to the Jackson report and the issues that it raises about our aid to those countries and other questions such as trade imbalance and so forth.

I express my thanks to our high commissions in the three countries for the part that they played in making the trip a smooth one. I wish to thank expecially our hosts in each of the three countries where we were looked after very well indeed . I would particularly like to thank Rob Alison, deputy Usher of the Black Rod in this chamber who was Secretary to the delegation, for the efficient way in which he assisted us and for the tolerant way in which he put up with members of the Committee.

I want to make two more points. When this report was tabled in the House of Representatives on Friday I notice that the Hansard running headline was ' Parliamentary Delegation to Papua New Guinea'. I suspect that Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands would not appreciate that. If that headline has to be abbreviated I suggest that it should be: 'Parliamentary Delegation to the South Pacific', because they are all separate and independent nations. My final thought in this rather hurried statement, because of the lateness of the hour, is to point out that the delegation was led by Barry Cunningham, as Deputy Government Whip. It was an unusual situation because as I understand it, it is more usual for a Minister to travel with a parliamentary delegation to act as its leader. In my opinion it was a better arrangement not to have a Minister, with all due respect to our Ministers, because it made it clearer that it was a parliamentary delegation and there was no chance of confusing it with a ministerial or government delegation. (Quorum formed) I was on the verge of completing my statement by suggesting that in future the practice of delegations being led by such people as Government whips or non-ministerial members of the Government would be preferable.