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Monday, 3 November 2003
Page: 21706

Mr LINDSAY (12:36 PM) —I thank my colleagues Bill Heffernan and Dick Adams, and I pay tribute to committee secretary Adam Cunningham, who did an excellent job, and to Australian Ambassador Paul Foley and his staff, who organised the delegation and this program so very capably. Mr Speaker, you will be heartened to know that Australia is highly regarded in East Timor, which is actually called Timor Leste. We are certainly not forgotten for the wonderful work that we did in East Timor's hour of need. I was there in 1999, just a month or so after Australia went to the aid of the East Timorese. I saw the terrible devastation right across the country and I saw how the people had been so badly affected. But it was a joy to go back in 2003 not so long ago and see how life has returned and to see the happiness of the people of East Timor—how they have progressed and how they are rebuilding their country. It is terrific.

But East Timor is still a fragile country. It is still in danger of not being able to organise its economy properly. Just last year 40 per cent of the entire rice crop—the entire rice production of the country—was lost. It was lost because there is no marketing and distribution system in the country to get that rice off to market to get it to consumers. Also a significant problem is that there is no middle management ability in the country. You have people who are very good thinkers, like Prime Minister Alkatiri and President Xanana Gusmao, but you do not have the people in between to do the organisation and to make sure the place runs properly. For example, we went to the emergency department at Dili Hospital and one of the doctors said to me, `We don't have any thermometers in the emergency department.' I immediately thought, `I'll get a Rotary club in Australia to send over a box of thermometers.' They said: `No, that is not the problem. We have got the money; it is just that someone has forgotten to order them.' That is the kind of fundamental management issue that is seen right across the economy in East Timor.

Australia can help in relation to the commercial opportunities that are there—for example, the supply and distribution of fuel. Australia's very good overseas aid program is helping the farmers to understand how to better produce their products and to get them to market. It can help them with management issues.

Mr Speaker, you might be interested to know that members of parliament in East Timor do not have an office. Their office is actually in the parliament itself. They have at their desks all their resources to carry out their parliamentary duties—that is, all the papers, correspondence and whatever. Members of parliament come into the parliament and do their work at their desks. They still do not have any telecommunications infrastructure, there is no IT and there are no computers; there are none of the facilities that we have as members of parliament to help us in the discharge of our duties. If you are lucky to have an email address as a member of parliament in East Timor, it might be at Yahoo or Hotmail. It is not a government email address. But to their very great credit they run a credible parliament. Their Speaker runs the parliament as our parliament is run, due respect is shown to the parliamentary process and they are doing very well indeed.

I would also like to echo the member for Lyons' comments about the members of the Australian Defence Force we met at the Australian national command centre and also out in the field at Moleana, Maliana and Junction Point Alpha. Principally the members of the Defence Force were from the 1st Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment based in Townsville. We met Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Smith, a very capable leader who, one day perhaps—and I hope this does not affect his career—might be Chief of the Defence Force. He has that capability. He is highly regarded not only by the people who work for him but also by the Australian Defence Force itself. Those people are extraordinarily professional. They do Australia proud in what they do in their overseas deployments. They do it to help the people of East Timor, and they have done a mighty job. Congratulations to the members of the Australian Defence Force who so capably have represented Australia. (Time expired)

The SPEAKER —Unless anyone else is seeking the call, the time allotted for statements has expired. Does the member for Lyons wish to move a motion in connection with the report to enable it to be debated at a later stage?

Mr ADAMS (Lyons) (12.41 p.m.)—I move:

That the House take note of the report.

I seek leave to continue my remarks later.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.