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Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Page: 2130

Senator TROETH (6:09 PM) —by leave—I present the report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to the 122nd Inter-parliamentary Union Assembly in Thailand and a bilateral visit to the People’s Republic of China, which took place from 25 March to 11 April 2010. I seek leave to move a motion to take note of the document.

Leave granted.

Senator TROETH —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

This delegation spent some five or six days in Thailand and then moved on to a bilateral visit to the Republic of China. It was led by the Speaker of the House, Mr Jenkins, and me as deputy leader. Other delegates were Ms Jill Hall, the Hon. Roger Price, Mr Patrick Secker—and you, Mr Acting Deputy President McGauran, also joined the delegation while we were in Thailand.

The opportunities were for regional cooperation, economic development, nuclear non-proliferation disarmament and environmental protection, and all of these issues were fully discussed at the meeting in Bangkok. These assemblies are held twice a year and we had 124 parliaments represented in Bangkok. In the general debate, Mr Jenkins spoke about the efforts to achieve reconciliation with Australia’s Indigenous people. I chaired a drafting committee on the acceleration of achievements of the Millennium Development Goals which was later adopted by consensus. Mr Jenkins also spoke on nuclear security. Ms Hall spoke on strengthening our national health programs and gave examples of Australia’s efforts to support the implementation of Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5.

Many other activities of the IPU were noted and discussed, and the delegation attended meetings of the two geopolitical groups in which we participate: the Asia-Pacific group and the 12 Plus group. There is consideration of making the interparliamentary union a treaty-making group, and that is an ongoing consideration, with Australia and some other countries, particularly former Commonwealth countries, having reservations about this idea as well as concerns about the IPU focusing on this issue to the detriment of others.

The delegation also had meetings with speakers of the Thai and Korean parliaments, with delegations from Indonesia and Vietnam and with a member of parliament from Afghanistan. Arrangements were also made at that conference for a follow-up regional meeting in New Zealand to increase the involvement of Pacific Island parliaments in the IPU. That was subsequently held on 9 and 10 August 2010, with me and Mr Price attending. An outcomes document with 13 action ideas was adopted unanimously at that meeting and I look forward to progress being made.

The delegation left Bangkok on 1 April against the background of the escalating red shirt violence, which reached a crescendo some weeks after we left, with the actual hotel and conference area where the conference was held being subsequently attacked by the red shirts and burnt out. I understand that it has been demolished and an entirely new complex will have to be built.

In China, we made visits to major cities and regional areas. Again, the main aims of the delegation were to further develop relations between the Australian parliament and the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China, as a memorandum of understanding has recently been signed between the two parliaments. We also wanted to gain an understanding of recent political, social and economic developments in China and their relevance to Australia and the Asia-Pacific region. We also hoped to enhance bilateral relations between our two countries. We visited Hong Kong; Macau, which is undergoing redevelopment in family tourism; and Guangzhou, which has 110 million people, 12 per cent of China’s economic output and 30 per cent of its exports.

We also went to the autonomous region of Ningxia, which is in the far north-west of the country and contains some 6.2 million people. Many people in that area have been relocated from very poor regions of China so that they can make a new life in specially built housing and whole new economic developments. It was indeed strange to see multilane highways, built for the future, with not one car on them except for ours, and huge ornamental lakes with little cabanas around them, which will no doubt cater for the leisure time of the population when they have ceased their undoubtedly very hard work.

We visited a horticulture park, which again is a recent development, and it contains areas for research, production, investment, education and tourism. We also looked at the cultural diversity of this province. It has a high level of the religion of Islam in it. We visited two mosques and an Islamic institute and I understand that in that region, with its 6.2 million people, there are over 3,000 mosques. So it is a very diverse region.

We then went on to Beijing, where we had more parliamentary dialogue. All indications are that the bilateral relationship between Australia and China is growing strongly. There will always be some differences of opinion, but effective cooperation and consultation should be the words for the future. We want to increase trade between the two countries and not just in raw materials and natural resources. We look to make progress in the free trade agreement and we were assured that there is a firm political will in China to achieve it. We intend to strengthen the parliamentary dialogue and exchange ideas on defence and water management. We also had meetings with representatives of Australian business and government representatives. There is an increasing opportunity for Australian companies with environment qualifications and know-how, because that is one of the growth industries in China.

In Shanghai, we took a look at the excellent Australian exhibition at the world expo, which made me very proud to be an Australian. It had very high quality materials and was built to a very high level of environmental efficiency. We also visited the Bao Steel Corporation. It is the second largest steel production plant in the world, with an annual production of 25 million tonnes of steel. Part of that is exported through the new deep-water port that we visited which handles nine million container units a year. It is obvious that there is a need for Australian policy and decision making to be in tune with this absolute explosion of the Chinese desire to be involved with its near Asian neighbours.

I would like to thank Mr Andres Lompe, who accompanied the delegation. I would like to thank the Parliament of Thailand. The Chinese hospitality which provided such a comprehensive program for us was very much appreciated as was the support provided by the Australian embassy and our consulates in Thailand and China. We also had an officer from DFAT, Mr Eric Van Der Waal with us at the delegation at the IPU.

I would like to make particular mention of someone who was not on this trip: Mr Neil Bessell, who unfortunately died earlier this year. I have been on something like four of these delegations, and Mr Bessell was an integral part of those delegations. Not only did he see that every detail was catered for; he also looked after us extremely well on every occasion. No question was too silly to ask from the point of view of the delegation members; Neil always answered questions in every way that we could have wanted. Like many other members of the Senate, I mourn his passing and I would like to say how much he was missed on that delegation and how very fondly he will be remembered by all those senators and members who have been on IPU delegations.

Question agreed to.