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Thursday, 25 August 1994
Page: 370

Senator LOOSLEY —My question is directed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Given the significance of the relationship between Australia and Indonesia across a range of issues, can the minister inform the Senate on the detail of the issues discussed at the Australia-Indonesia Ministerial Forum this week, 23 and 24 August? Is it fair to claim the outcome of the forum was positive in advancing our bilateral relationship? What conclusions might appropriately be drawn as a consequence of the meeting of this year's forum?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The outcome of the forum was very positive indeed. It was the second such forum to have taken place since the first was initiated as a result of an agreement between President Suharto and Mr Keating a couple of years ago. It took place over the last two days in Canberra. It brought together four key Indonesian ministers and a total, putting them altogether, of 11 Australian ministers to review progress right across the bilateral relationship but with a particular focus on the economic and commercial relationship. Indonesia is only one of three countries with whom we have these regular ministerial, all-in exchanges of this kind. The others are Papua New Guinea and Japan, and that reflects the economic and strategic importance of the relationship as it is evolving between us.

  There really was a very substantive dialogue that took place during those two days on bilateral trade and investment, industry, science and technology, human resource development, food and agriculture, and energy, as well as regional economic and security issues which we together are trying to advance. We had some very productive discussions on the forthcoming APEC meetings—the trade ministers meeting in October, and the ministerial and leaders meeting in Bogor in Indonesia in November which will be hosted by, of course, President Suharto.

  I also took the opportunity to raise with my counterpart, as well as the group as a whole, a number of sensitive matters in our relationship, including East Timor, the media bans and the recent arrest of the unofficial but nonetheless important Indonesian trade union leader, Pakpahan.

  The striking range of the practical progress that has taken place under the umbrella of this ministerial forum certainly confirmed its value. Over the last two years the forum and its working groups established under it have resolved a number of market access issues, facilitated trade and investment and promoted industry collaboration. More specifically, under the umbrella of the forum, a business mission and a trade exhibition took place with the Australia Today, Indonesia 94 promotion and new joint ventures have been established—for example, in horticulture, cattle breeding and marine engineering. A bilateral agreement on scientific research and technology development cooperation has been signed and a memorandum of understanding on a marine engineering feasibility study.

  The point about the forum was not only to bring together the result of the work that has been done over the last two years but also to set the directions for the next two years for governments to work together in the economic area. The forum agenda is being expanded now as a result of decisions yesterday to cover a total of nine areas, including trade, education, health, the environment, housing and transport. That again reflects the dynamism and the sheer breadth of the relationship as it is emerging.

  A new working group on infrastructure was also established, in particular, designed to capture emerging business opportunities in the infrastructure sector in Indonesia and the region. Business communities are very directly benefiting from the broadening and the deepening of the bilateral economic relationship in this way and the networking opportunities that this forum provides.

  It is not just the substance of the forum that matters, it is the occasion and the personal dynamics that flow from exchanges of this kind, particularly when one is reaching across a group of portfolios and spending a couple of days in each other's company. It gives senior ministers on both sides an excellent chance to get a broad perspective on the diversity and the value of the relationship and, as we all know, it is a very valuable relationship indeed.