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Thursday, 6 March 2003
Page: 9452


Senator FERRIS (3:28 PM) —by leave—On behalf of Senator Lightfoot, I present the report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, which took place during October and November 2002. I seek leave to move a motion in relation to the report.

Leave granted.


Senator FERRIS —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I seek leave to have Senator Lightfoot's tabling statement incorporated in Hansard.

Leave granted.

The statement read as follows

OPENING REMARKS

Mr President, It is my pleasure to present the report of the Australian Parliamentary Delegation to the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

This Delegation, led by the The Hon David Jull, and in which I was honoured to be included, travelled to Iran on the 27th October, on to Jordan on the 3rd November and returned to Australia on the 9th November 2003.

The main objective of the delegation was to renew and strengthen Australia's ties with the Iranian and Jordanian Governments.

Allied to this was the delegation's determination to gain an understanding of these countries' key domestic, political, social and economic issues.

A further objective was the delegation's aim to gain an understanding of regional issues including, in this difficult period of international instability, inter-country relationships in the middle-east—and in particular the effect of the Israeli-Palestinian, Iraqi and Afghanistani conflicts.

Of particular interest though was the opportunity to canvas and review trade, investment and commercial relations and directions that could prove mutually beneficial our respective countries.

The delegation aimed to promote dialogue that would strengthen cultural relationships and promote opportunities for the exchange of educational and scientific co-operation.

The realisation of these objectives and aims was assisted greatly by the extensive publicity, in both countries, that accompanied the many and varied activities of the delegation and their visits and meetings with elected, business and community leaders. The most significant factor that contributed to the success of the delegation was the high level of access that was afforded us which included an audience with King Abdullah ll of Jordan and access to members of his Cabinet.

Thanks in this respect should also go to the Mr Hojjatoleslam Medhi Karrubi—Speaker of the Islamic Consultative Assembly of Iran and Mr Zaid Rifai—President of the Senate of Jordan for their unstinting support for the delegation's visit and for their hospitality.

Members of the delegation have also expressed their appreciation for the continued support, assistance and contribution of the Charge d Affair of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Australia, Mr Eshaoh Al Habib, and the delegation also thanks the Ambassador of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan to Australia, His Excellency Dr Khaldoun Tharwat Talhouni.

Our delegation was admirably supported by the efforts of our Ambassadors in Iran His Excellency Mr Jeremy Newman and, his counterpart in Jordan, His Excellency Mr John Tilemann and their respective members of staff.

· Thoughts of the Middle East and Iran seldom reach our Australian consciousness except when conflict and natural disasters bring to our television screens images of destruction and distress—yet in stark contrast to these images, the mention of “Persia” as Iran was formerly known, conjures images of desert fortresses, beautiful veiled women, exotic foods and a land of mysterious beliefs and unknown culture.

· Today, even the name “Iran” conspires to raise suspicion. The similarity in names between Iraq and Iran imply a similarity that does not exist. For all its social and political differences, Iran by comparison is a democratic country, whose people welcome foreign travellers with some words of English and a ready smile and although the women are still veiled, they are not required to wear the chador and are treated with respect and equality.

· Jordan's stability and progressive policies in areas ranging from Health to Taxation contrast sharply with the popular expectations of a country sandwiched between Iraq and Israel/Palestine.

Regional Security.

All interlocutors from both Iran and Jordan expressed grave concern about the effects that a war against Iraq would have on the stability and security of the region as a whole and their concerns are of course echoed here at home.

Speaker Karrubi, on reflecting on the history of Iraq, stated emphatically that Iraq should accept all UN Security Council Resolutions. Australians' fears of the new global terrorism are also the fears of Iranians as demonstrated by the Speaker's reference to the Washington sniper, the attack on an oil tanker of Yemen and other acts of terrorism perpetrated against women and children and opined that only a general decisiveness from all nations would achieve the goal of security for all mankind.

His Royal Majesty King Abdullah al-Hussein of Jordan expressed concern about the changing dynamics within the Palestinian population as the proportion of Christians diminish, squeezed, as they are between the growing numbers of the Jewish and Moslem communities.

Bilateral Links with Australia.

Australian involvement in the opening of the Iranian—or Persian—tourist market is significant, even though the numbers of individuals travelling as tourists between the two countries is disappointingly small. I have no doubt that a resolution of international concerns regarding Iraq will see a dramatic increase in the number of tourists wanting to explore the geographical, historical and cultural attractions of this ancient but beautiful country

Significant numbers of Iranian students— over 1,000—have come to Australia to complete their postgraduate education. Their success is evident in the number of individuals who met with the Delegation and who had completed their studies in Australia, such as Doctor Emadi, Deputy Minister for Agricultural Jihad.

Jordan's Aqaba Special Economic Zone is a very good example of the combination of location, intelligent taxation arrangements, and international trade agreements to achieve significant growth and development. It is hoped that the examples set by the Aqaba Special Economic Zone Authority (ASEZA) can lead to similar development in both the rest of the country, as well as elsewhere in the immediate region.

CLOSING COMMENTS

This report, an accurate reflection of the work of the delegation—whose members included Senator Allison, the member for Gilmore, Joanna Gash; the member for Lyons, Dick Adams and was led by the Hon David Jull with Mr Martin Evans as his deputy,—includes background material, details meetings and engagements undertaken by the delegation, canvases relevant issues and most importantly, makes recommendations in regard to each country.

These recommendations aim to cement the work of the delegation in strengthening Australia's ties with Iran and Jordan and will enable those opportunities, identified or recognised by the delegation, to become mutually beneficial.

In commending this report to the Senate, I would also like to recognise the work and assistance of the secretary to the delegation, the staff of the Parliamentary Liaison Office and Library research officers who provided the comprehensive background and briefing material that was essential to ensure that Australia was represented in the professional and statesman-like manner that it so richly deserves.


Senator FERRIS —I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.