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Monday, 6 December 1999
Page: 12787


Mr ANDREW (12:31 PM) —I would remind members on my right that the Speaker wishes to make a report to the House and that would be facilitated by them resuming their chairs.

I present the report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to Greece, Turkey and Cyprus in July 1999. The report records the impressions of the Australian parliamentary delegation which visited Greece, Turkey and Cyprus in the period 6 to 21 July 1999. I had the privilege of leading the delegation and was accompanied by the Hon. Duncan Kerr as Deputy Leader, Senator Brian Gibson, Mr Joel Fitzgibbon, Mr David Hawker and Mrs Danna Vale. The delegation secretary was Mr John Kain from the Department of the Parliamentary Library.

The visit took place at a time of some turmoil in the eastern Mediterranean region. It was in the immediate aftermath of the Kosovo war and just prior to the devastating earthquakes which struck Turkey and, shortly thereafter, Greece with tragic loss of life and major property destruction. Australia has long-established and valuable associations with all three countries, both social and economic, as well as military. Members of the delegation felt a special feeling of kinship and familiarity with the people and the parliaments of this region. This was hardly surprising as migrants from the region have indeed made an invaluable contribution to Australia's rich and diverse cultural fabric over the last 50 years. These cultural connections no doubt contributed to the overwhelming warmth and friendliness of our reception by parliamentary and other national leaders in each of the countries.

While none of these countries ranks among Australia's major trading partners, they do offer important export growth and investment opportunities. As the record attests, there has been quite significant growth in our trading relationship with Turkey, in particular, over recent years. Every listener will know that there are marked similarities between the climates of temperate Australia and the eastern Mediterranean countries. Not surprisingly, our primary producing industries have much in common and share many of the same production challenges. This is true particularly in agricultural production in semiarid areas. These similarities mean that there are opportunities for increased trade and investment and the pooling of experience and expertise to our mutual benefit. Some Australian interests are already heavily involved as joint partners in a number of irrigation and agricultural projects in the region. The rapid growth in sales of Australian fast ferries to both Greece and Turkey is a noteworthy example of Australian manufacturing export successes in the region.

Further emerging opportunities for Australian trade and investment in Greece are appearing in the lead-up to the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, and the Athens organisers are working closely with their Sydney counterparts to help make both events an international success. Although large Australian construction companies are already aware of these opportunities, the sporting events offer further openings for smaller companies which will emerge. These will not be limited to the construction industry but are likely to extend to the provision of an array of other goods and services and design support. The delegation was struck by the fact that, like Australia, all three countries visited are going through rapid economic transformation and structural change. With the breakdown in international trade barriers over recent years and declining international transport costs, Australian investors and traders would be wise not to neglect this vital and rapidly growing part of the world economy.

Of course, the eastern Mediterranean region has long been of prime geostrategic importance to Europe and Asia. This military importance was demonstrated most recently by the central support roles played by Greece and Turkey in the Kosovo conflict. The support of the region was also crucial to the effective conduct of the allied effort in the Gulf campaign of the early 1990s. The military links between Australia and the region date back many years and provide the foundations of some strong bilateral bonds between Australia, Greece, Turkey and Cyprus. During the Second World War, Australian troops were involved in the defence of Greece and many Australian service personnel died in the Battle of Crete.

The delegation noted with gratitude that these events are commemorated by both Greeks and visiting Australians to this day. The lasting legacy of Gallipoli in the collective national memories of both Australia and Turkey cannot be overestimated. Its importance to the Turks was continually emphasised to us by Turkish national leaders. The symbolism of the ANZAC connection is very real and the delegation felt especially honoured to visit the historical sites and memorials of Gallipoli where, in 1915, Australia and Turkey first met. While adversaries at this time, the bravery and gallantry of both sides in the Gallipoli campaign has shaped the way both Turkey and Australia see themselves in the world today.

Australia's longstanding civil police function undertaken in support of the United Nations peacekeeping forces on Cyprus has represented a very significant commitment of Australian resources over the past 35 years. It is a valuable indicator of the importance which successive Australian governments have placed on the maintenance of peace and stability in the region.

The delegation was pleased to have the opportunity to meet with Australian Federal Police members stationed on Cyprus. We learned at first-hand the nature of their responsibilities along the UN buffer zone which delineates the northern Turkish Cypriot controlled part of the island from the Greek Cypriot portion of the south. We were impressed with the capacity the AFP members have shown to uphold the Australian tradition, particularly in the circumstances in which they work.

During the course of its discussions with parliamentarians in Greece and Turkey, the delegation was continually reminded of the interdependence of these two regional neighbours and of the complex web of social, political and religious factors which, over the generations, have tended to keep relationships between the two countries at best `cool' and at worst `hostile'. Although the Cyprus problems lies at the heart of many of these difficulties, there are other areas of longstanding dispute, such as territorial claims in the Aegean Sea and conflicting claims over air rights.

A lasting impression from our discussions with respective national leaders is that the prospects for immediate resolution of these difficulties are not at all clear, notwithstanding some recent thawing in Greece-Turkey relations. The apparent intractability of the Cyprus problem is a continuing concern. However, there have been some recent positive moves by the EU to accept Turkey as a candidate for EU entry. The support that Greece has given to this accession is to be lauded. The possibility of full EU membership may offer greater long-term prospects for resolving some of the historic differences than have existed for many years.

I express the delegation's deep appreciation to the parliaments of Greece, Turkey and Cyprus for welcoming us so warmly, to the heads of mission and staff in the Australian posts in Athens, Ankara and Nicosia—particularly Ambassadors Burns and Forsyth, and High Commissioner Brown—for their strong support, and to those officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of the Parliamentary Library for the thoroughness of their briefing material prepared before the delegation's departure.

I conclude by recognising the cohesiveness of the delegation which I led, and I express my particular appreciation to all delegation members for the way in which they operated as a team and so effectively represented Australia in what was quite a lengthy overseas visit. I offer my particular appreciation to the deputy leader of the delegation, Mr Kerr, the member for Denison, for his support throughout the events.