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Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Page: 1314


Senator WATSON (4:33 PM) —by leave—I table and present the report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to the 28th AIPA General Assembly and to Indonesia, which took place in August 2007. I seek leave to move a motion in relation to the report.

Leave granted.


Senator WATSON —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I wish to make a few comments in relation to the report. The 2007 delegation to the 28th General Assembly of AIPA, and to Indonesia, demonstrated the enormous value of parliamentary delegations in building economic and social cooperation. It is a unique occasion to go to AIPA with parliamentarians from the ASEAN region and further afield, to hold dialogues, to establish friendships and to learn more about the culture of individual nations. This 28th general assembly was held in Kuala Lumpur and was characterised by warmth and friendliness towards our country, Australia, and towards its delegates.

In addition to the formal meetings and dialogues, the social events and the entertainment of the assembly were wonderful opportunities to engage with our neighbouring parliamentarians, to learn a lot about each other’s cultures and to share in the diversity of our region. I would like to point out that Australia is indeed held in very high regard by countries of the region. Australia has a vital leadership role in promoting peace and unity in the region. Many parliamentarians have been educated in Australia or have family connections with Australia. So these personal and professional connections reinforce the importance of the Australian assistance programs in the region—whether we are speaking of educational scholarships, governance programs, capacity rebuilding or the participation in regional fora.

My own parliamentary experience has spanned almost 30 years, and over that time I have been on many delegations. However, I must say it was one of the highlights of my parliamentary life to have attended and experienced the AIPA 2007 conference. I have great confidence in the future of ASEAN as it develops its own character and even perhaps, in time, its own parliaments.

Following the AIPA presentation in Kuala Lumpur, the delegation moved on to Indonesia. We were privileged to have a program that not only encompassed formal meetings but also included opportunities to see the lives of everyday people in Indonesia. This range of activities enabled us to better understand the culture, challenges and diversity of one of our closest neighbours.

At this point I would like to pay tribute to the deputy delegation leader. I refer to Mr Sercombe, who was a MP at the time. This was the final delegation for Mr Sercombe, and I wish to acknowledge the commitment to the peace and prosperity in the ASEAN region that he showed at all times. In particular I point out his special interest in, and the work he has done in relation to, Papua. In terms of my other colleague, Ross Lightfoot has also shown close ties with the Indonesian region and a commitment to promoting stronger business connections with that region.

It is my pleasure to table this report, because some of the dialogue at the AIPA conference demonstrated just how important Australia’s commitment has been to nations in that region, particularly to countries like Cambodia—I think we are their third largest donor. One delegate gave a particularly moving account of how, as a young girl, she was to come out here as a Colombo student but was denied because of Pol Pot. She is now in high office within the parliament and respects Australia and the particular contribution that Australia has made to her country. The stories we heard were really quite moving. A lot of the other major countries received criticism; Australia received nothing but praise. It is interesting to note that, at the follow-up presentation where delegates had the opportunity to meet with the Australian delegation, the attendance was overflowing and went outside the room. I think this is a tribute to the country and to what Australia has contributed to that region over so many years.

I would also like to extend my thanks to the very dedicated delegation secretary, Dr Anna Dacre, and I would like to formally offer her my sincere sympathy for the bereavement that has occurred in her family in recent days. I would like to refer to the dedication of the embassy staff in Indonesia and to the ambassador and his wife, who provided such extensive support to the delegation. I commend the report to the Senate.

Question agreed to.