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Wednesday, 16 March 2005
Page: 60


Senator BARNETT (1:27 PM) —I rise today on the matters of public interest debate with regard to the promotion of the trade and cultural possibilities and opportunities presented to us through the royal marriage of Tasmanian Mary Donaldson to Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark. Like the rest of us, I was enthralled by the Danish royal visit last week to Australia and my home state of Tasmania in particular. Quite clearly, Australians could not get enough of the royal couple, and obviously the population of Denmark is equally fascinated and charmed by the homeland of their new fairytale princess.

I have nothing but admiration for the way that Mary Donaldson has so far distinguished herself appropriately as a Danish princess and, in reality, as an esteemed roving ambassador and symbol of Australia and her home state of Tasmania. It is as if she were born for this role rather than being the wedded commoner, if I can respectfully put it that way. She is such a natural; she is genuine. She electrifies and energises people in a way that has me casting my mind back to the charisma of the late Princess Diana.

I had the privilege last year of securing the Australian flag flown in the Australian parliament on the day of the royal couple’s wedding, and I have forwarded that flag to their royal highnesses through the good help and assistance of the Danish Consul-General, Jorgen Mollegaard. I have enjoyed getting to know Mr Mollegaard over the past six months, and I have appreciated his assistance and support in that regard. The royal couple acknowledged this special gift when I spoke to them briefly at an official reception in Canberra and again in Hobart last week.

I mention this fascination with the Danish royals not as a postscript of adulation because Mary is one of us but as a precursor to my point here today—that is, the country and, indeed, my home state of Tasmania must seize the economic, trade, social and cultural opportunities arising out of the magic of Mary. Here is a right royal opportunity to strengthen our ties with Denmark, with which we already enjoy some trade links, and certainly to strengthen our ties with the European Union, of which Denmark is a member state.

I was recently elected chair of the new bipartisan Denmark federal parliamentary friendship group, with a brief to forge new cultural and trade ties and to build the relationship with this EU member country. This small group on its own may not achieve a great deal but, together with other measures and innovations, I believe it will play its part. I recognise the appointment of my colleague Labor Senator Linda Kirk as deputy chair and my Liberal colleague Senator Santo Santoro as secretary of the group, and I look forward to working with them both. Last year when I reviewed the Australian parliamentary friendship groups, I noticed that there was none with Denmark. I recommended that we establish such a group and, with over a dozen others, it has now been so established.

In May last year I urged the Hobart City Council and the Tasmanian government to explore sister city status with the authorities in Copenhagen in light of the natural development of the close relationship born out of the royal Danish wedding. I am sure a sister city relationship with Tasmanian cities and Copenhagen or other appropriate Danish cities would be a natural product of the marriage. There is also no reason why this international relationship cannot be extended to other major centres, such as Launceston, Devonport and Burnie in my home state, with regional centres in Denmark.

It is all about converting those television images that many of us saw both last year during the royal wedding in Denmark, with the Danish and Australian flags being flown by so many thousands of people, and then again during their royal highnesses’ visit last week to Australia. Australian and Danish flags were flown across this country, particularly in my home state of Tasmania. It is about converting those images into something far more substantial and long lasting. I believe a sister city relationship is a natural product of the royal relationship. Our two countries share similar values and democratic principles, and we are similar in economic terms, with low inflation of around two per cent and a similar projection of annual GDP growth for Denmark of just over two per cent. With a total mass of 43,094 square kilometres, Denmark has a similar temperate climate to Tasmania and our south-eastern mainland region. It has a population of 5.4 million and shares its border with Germany.

We should grasp with both hands this rare opportunity to further cement our emotional, historic and economic ties with Denmark as a key member country of the European Union. There are countless ways to do this, limited only by our imagination. Already tourism and trade figures between Australia and Denmark have surged as a result of last year’s royal wedding in Copenhagen. There are reports that the tourism flow between the two countries jumped by up to 80 per cent last year, while Danish exports to Australia jumped by up to 40 per cent. In 2003-04 total Australian exports to Denmark grew by 34 per cent over the previous year to $166.7 million, while total imports from Denmark had grown by 11.3 per cent to $856.6 million.

In a news report last year AAP reporter Paul Mulvey quoted our trade commissioner in Denmark, Flemming Larsen, as predicting an increase of $50 million in Australian exports by the end of this year and a further increase of $50 million next year. In 2003-04 Tasmania imported goods worth $69 million from Denmark, which was obviously good news—but there is room for improvement. In his AAP report Mulvey went on to say that trade between the two countries was booming because of the marriage, with a higher profile in Denmark of Australian and Tasmanian boutique products such as wine and arts and craft. Mr Mulvey quoted Trade Commissioner Flemming Larsen on the prospect of further growth in trade. Here is what Mr Larsen told that reporter:

In the last three years, exports from Australia to Denmark have gone from $105 million to $160 million ...

Previously we only pushed small- to medium-sized imports, no real big ones who push through serious sizes. That’s all going to change now.

Mary’s wedding has been a bit of a rocket boost to our trade.

I wouldn’t be surprised if we see another $50 million in growth in the next year and the total jump to $250 million in a couple of years.

She’s not just a one-off thing, she’s going to be here the rest of her life.

That is so true. Mr Mulvey went on to report that:

A dramatically improved profile of Australia in Denmark thanks to the princess brings with it a much greater awareness of Australian products.

Mr Larsen was quoted as saying that wine was one of the best examples, with Tasmanian wine going from sales of 1,000 to 12,000 cases a year in Denmark. The AAP report went on to say:

There were also hefty sales from simple products such as Tim Tams, Cherry Ripes, Vegemite and Driza-Bone.

Australian arts and craft, homeware and fashion labels such as Fink, Dinosaur and Ultra Funky were booming in Denmark.

In the weeks leading up to the wedding, Larsen took advantage of Denmark’s focus on Australia and turned Copenhagen into a mini Australian trade fair.

Congratulations, Mr Larsen, for your initiative and your efforts. Keep it up.

This is the type of innovation I am alluding to, and I again congratulate our trade commissioner for seizing those opportunities. However, while he is obviously well placed to achieve much, he cannot do it all on his own. There are numerous possibilities. For instance, Australian wine exports to Denmark increased from $11 million in 1999-2000 to $38 million in 2003-04. Here is an already growing industry set to blossom with the royal marriage and the Danish royal family’s penchant for and links to the wine industry. Seafood exports, albeit from a low base, have grown by more than 1,000 per cent over this period to $860,000—another potential growth area, particularly for my home state of Tasmania. In 2003-04 Denmark was ranked as our 31st trading partner, up from 33 in the previous financial year. I believe the 2004-05 figures will surely show exceptional growth and enormous potential for far higher levels of growth into the future.

The relationship between our countries, bound by the royal marriage and the subsequent economic impact, is a centuries old phenomenon, although thankfully in modern times the royals actually have a say in their nuptials and their future. Nevertheless, the economic flow-on effect can be just as exciting as it would have been centuries ago. Our new emotional and cultural ties with Denmark can extensively improve our trade imbalance, boosting Tasmanian and Australian exports and opening up another avenue into the EU market. The significance of these ties cannot be overstated, so I urge local authorities to develop sister city and other trade and cultural ties.

Certainly our education authorities, at least in my home state of Tasmania, ought to be planning a student exchange program with Denmark. I have no doubt that, once up and running, an exchange program would soon be fully subscribed in both countries. There are people who may dismiss this as making too much of the royal marriage, but I submit that we can make as much of it as we like if we are enthusiastic, able and willing. I wish to know, for instance, whether the government in my state or various local government instrumentalities have pursued the possibilities of sister city relationships or other forms of cultural and community exchange programs, such as student exchange programs.

I was heartened to read in the Launceston Examiner last Friday a report that the state education department had launched a ‘Denmark Friendship Schools Program’, enabling students to establish penpal contacts with students in Danish schools. They called it ‘Mouse Pals’, as in a computer mouse. The school in question in South Launceston was Kings Meadows High School, and I understand another school in Hobart is also supporting the program. I applaud this development, but there is much more that we can do. I strongly urge the Tasmanian Department of Education to explore the possibilities of student exchange programs and the like if they have not already done so. Taroona Primary School and Taroona High School—the home schools of Crown Princess Mary—are doing so already and work has already begun. Congratulations! Those ideas could also be extended to aspiring young business executives in the private sector and public servants in the public sector of both countries. Business and trade missions between our two countries are recommended. The opportunities are there and available to grasp.

There is much violence, hate and division across international borders in the world today, so it would be a brilliant gesture if our Mary’s wedding were to forge a new and fruitful relationship between the peoples of Denmark and Tasmania, and indeed Australia. I believe it is within our power to create a new era of trade and cultural harmony with Denmark, and hopefully other European countries. Let it be a beacon for the rest of the world to see what can be achieved. At the same time I am perplexed by the naive and ideological nonsense trotted out by the ACT Chief Minister, Jon Stanhope, who was reported in today’s Canberra Times as saying:

I see something of a cultural cringe in some of the lavish praise that I don’t quite understand that has been laid at the feet of Princess Mary.

Only a mean-spirited character, suffering from and confused by his own cultural cringe and insular-laden mentality, could make such a comment. Apart from an apparent vacuous disposition against the normal leadership qualities of diplomacy and courtesy regarding VIP visits such as those by foreign heads of state, I submit that Mr Stanhope clearly has no concept or indeed grasp of the nuances and inherent potential for trade and other economic connotations surrounding such royal visits. I fear for the prospects of economic development in the ACT if this is the attitude of its leader.

On a brighter note I conclude by complimenting both Crown Princess Mary and Crown Prince Frederik for the very friendly, generous and statesmanlike way they conducted their visit. As I have said, our world history so often symbolises all the wrong traits of mankind, such as conflict, wars, racial and ethnic discord and of course terrorism. The Danish royal couple are a fresh and most welcome contradiction of the norm. I bid them a fruitful and long-lasting life. I also implore our community and leading authorities to seriously contemplate the economic, cultural and other potentials for developing and building strong and vibrant ties out of this wonderful relationship.