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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 1057

Senator BACK (Western Australia) (17:02): I rise to endorse the comments of my colleague Senator Bilyk in thanking people both here in this place, in Australia and in Japan, for the excellence of their organisation, particularly Ms Robyn McClelland, and in Tokyo, the ambassador and embassy staff. I would like to endorse further the comments of Senator Bilyk, because they relate to the issues associated with the earthquake and the tsunami which occurred in Japan, and to advise the Senate that Australia and the USA were the only two countries whose militaries were actually able to participate in the recovery phase, such is the trust and faith in which Australia and the US are held by Japan. It was far more than a token effort. The RAAF were very, very active in the movement of heavy equipment throughout that exercise, and certainly the delegation members went away feeling very proud of the contribution that Australia had made.

With Mr Forrest, I had the opportunity to talk a little bit about the response and recovery phase following a major international disaster of that type. Once again, the experience that we in Australia have is such that we can contribute significantly throughout the Asia-Pacific region when it comes to things like quality of communication, ease and speed of response and movement throughout the affected areas—often at a time when the host country is really feeling the pinch of the disaster, which in that case was befalling them.

In the few minutes available I would also like to affirm, as Senator Bilyk was kind enough to mention, the fact that I did give a paper on food security in the Asia-Pacific region about some of the challenges associated with that. We were told that whilst we in Australia have an average age of farmers, husband-and-wife combined, of 61 years, that in Japan the average age for farmers is now 66 years. So it begs the question, as we move to a population in the Asia-Pacific region by 2050 of an extra 1.9 billion people: what are the opportunities for Australian agriculture and the food logistics chain? It also identifies the challenges that we are going to have, and I will speak more on food security.

One of the concerns I do have is the fact that all four of us—and indeed the secretariat—were new to this task of the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum and therefore none of us could build on the experience of earlier delegations. I would make a recommendation that at least one member of each delegation—and going forward, I believe that next year it is in Vladivostok in Russia—should have had the experience of having participated previously in an Asia Pacific Forum. These forums are so valuable, with the goodwill generated, the bonhomie, and the discussion around the table both formal and informal. They were of enormous benefit to us all. I compliment my colleagues. I believe that Australia acquitted itself very, very well. We were highly respected in the committee stages, in the discussions that went on and in the plenary sessions.

Finally I would like to acknowledge particularly, as Senator Bilyk has done, the Honourable Bruce Miller, the Australian Ambassador. He is obviously very highly respected. We were there at a time when some people had managed to get themselves onto a Japanese vessel, and the fact that he was able to deal with our group and that he was able to share so much very interesting information while at the same time deal with that particular matter, not only stood him in good stead but his relationship with the Japanese government, I believe, acquitted the outcome of that particular event. So I join Senator Bilyk in commending this report to the Senate and I hope that others into the future have as much benefit as we did in participating.

Question agreed to.