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Thursday, 2 April 1987
Page: 2000

Mr WILSON —by leave-I present the report of the Australian delegation to the seventy-fifth Inter-Parliamentary Union Conference held in Mexico from 7 to 12 April 1986 and seek leave to make a short statement in connection with the report.

Leave granted.

Mr WILSON —The report of the Australian Parliamentary Delegation to the seventy-fifth Conference of the Inter-Parliamentary Union held in Mexico City, Mexico, from 7 to 12 April 1986 has just been tabled by me. That Conference was attended by 452 members of parliament from 94 different countries. It took place only a few months after Mexico City had been rocked by an earthquake of severe intensity which destroyed large parts of the city. It is to the credit of the organisers of the Conference and the positive attitude of the Mexican people that the Conference proceeded on schedule with noticeably little inconvenience to delegates. Along with Senator Colston, who has tabled this report in the Senate I, too, would join in congratulating the Mexican National Group of the IPU on the dedication of its organisation, on the facilities it provided for the Conference and on the extent and content of the social program that it organised for those attending the Conference.

At the Conference three topics were chosen for discussion. The first dealt with the arms race, disarmament, international terrorism and hotbeds of tension in the world, efforts of the Contadora group in seeking to arrive at a peaceful solution to the conflicts in Central America. A third item was discussed. I have deliberately left out the second item because I want to speak on it at greater length. The third topic was a supplementary item and it focused on the tensions in the Middle East.

I return now to the second topic. The second topic considered by the Conference dealt with the advancement of developing countries through international trade, science and technology, the advancement of the welfare of mankind in general and, in particular, the health and well-being of the elderly. I speak of this debate because I was interested in its subject matter. It was a very interesting debate which dealt with two very important topics. One was the implications for all countries around the world of the ageing of their populations and the manner in which countries and governments can cope with ageing populations. Sometimes, as it was pointed out at the Conference, this topic is approached on a scaremongering basis, but it should not be approached in that way; it should be tackled as a challenge because for years countries have been endeavouring to ensure that greater proportions of their populations have the opportunity to live for at least three score years and 10. Ageing populations will involve a reorganisation of our economies because there will be larger and different groups dependent upon the current work force. Unless countries tackle that problem early, they will find that they will be confronted with difficulties that will be of a far greater order than if they make an early start.

The second aspect of the debate dealt with world trade, with particular emphasis on developing countries. It was interesting to discover that some members of parliaments from the industrialised countries of Western Europe and the United States of America were concerned about the impact of their current protectionist policies, with particular reference to the subsidisation of agricultural produce. Australia is faced with grave problems as a consequence of the corruption of international markets.

Dr Harry Edwards —Do you mean to say that they are beginning to see the light?

Mr WILSON —As a result of discussions, I believe that the honourable member is correct; members of parliaments are recognising that what their governments are doing is wrong. As a result of that recognition, the Australian delegation to the Seventy-Sixth Conference that followed sought to have this question debated as a supplementary item. Although that proposal received strong support, it was not the chosen item. But I am pleased to inform honourable members that as a result of the vote that took place at the Seventy-Sixth Conference, our proposed supplementary item has been placed on the agenda for a conference to be held later this month. At this conference the question of the deleterious effect on world trade of the subsidisation of agricultural products will be discussed and debated by parliamentarians from over 90 countries. I draw this to the attention of the House in this statement because sometimes it is asked: What is the value of attending conferences such as the Inter-Parliamentary Union?

The problem of international subsidisation of agricultural products is so serious that this country has to approach the resolution of it on all possible fronts; government to government, bureaucracy to bureaucracy and parliamentarian to parliamentarian. I express my disappointment that as we have been preparing for the conference to be held later this month, the support and effort that government departments have put into providing the necessary background material has not been up to the standard necessary to reflect the nature of the problem as it affects Australia. As was suggested in a report following a visit by parliamentarians from this place to the United States some years ago, the Government has now recognised the importance of the political processes of our closest trading partners. The Government has appointed an ambassador with responsibility for the Congress, rather than for the Administration. But the departments have apparently failed to understand that conferences such as those held by the Inter-Parliamentary Union are places where members of this House, on an issue about which all honourable members from every party have a common concern, could help to advance Australia's interests.

The area in which the mistake has been made is this: The information given to us had a heavy emphasis on `you are hurting us'. True, those countries which subsidise their primary products are hurting us, but a large part of the world thinks that we can cope, because we are an affluent country in their eyes. Another part of the world which is subsidising products does not appreciate, except for the few members I spoke about a few minutes ago, that these policies are hurting them also. Conferences such as the one I will be attending in a few weeks time will give us an opportunity to bring to the attention of the countries of the European Economic Community, the United States and Japan not merely the fact that their policies are hurting us as a result of the corruption of international trade but also the fact that the electors of the great majority of the members of their parliaments are being hurt by their subsidisation policies. Their non-farmer electors are paying very high taxes and consumer prices to provide subsidies which in many respects, having been provided, are never recouped on the goods that are stockpiled in warehouses throughout Europe, the United States and Japan.

This is not an occasion to talk at length on this matter, but I felt it my duty to bring this matter to the attention of the House to demonstrate the usefulness of such a delegation and to urge upon the Government the necessity of providing such delegations with effective and full support in representing the interests of Australia at parliamentary conferences, so that through the members of parliament we can one day, sooner rather than later, achieve a change in the policies that are so seriously hurting our economy.

In conclusion, I thank my colleagues on the delegation-Senator Colston, who led the delegation, the honourable member for Lyne (Mr Cowan), the honourable member for Hunter (Mr Fitzgibbon), the honourable member for Fadden (Mr Jull) and the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Milton)-for their assistance, support and company. It would be remiss of me not to make particular reference, and express appreciation on behalf of myself and my colleagues, to Mr John McCarthy, Australia's Ambassador to Mexico at the time, and our thanks to his willing and competent staff. Many of them worked well beyond the call of duty. I place on record the appreciation of the delegation to the Ambassador, to Beverly Morrisby who provided secretarial assistance to the delegation and worked very long hours, and to the drivers who met the delegates and conveyed them from their hotel accommodation to the conference centre. I also add my thanks to Mr Tom Wharton of the Senate staff, who acted as secretary to the delegation, and to Mr Geoff Crawford, who accompanied us as our foreign affairs adviser. Finally, I say how pleased the members of the delegation were to be accompanied by the Clerk of the Senate, Mr Alan Cumming Thom, who attended the conference of the Association of Secretaries-General of Parliaments which was held at the same time.