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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 2102

Mr McARTHUR (4:42 PM) —by leave—I present the report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia from 8 to 23 November 2003. I seek leave to make a short statement.

Leave granted.

Mr McARTHUR —I put on record the very good, cohesive team who formed the parliamentary delegation to Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia: the member for Corio, Mr Gavan O'Connor; Senator Mason and Senator Natasha Stott Despoja. They were good ambassadors for Australia and for this parliament. During the tour, the team worked very well. I also thank the secretary, Ms Rosa Ferranda, for her assistance throughout the trip. In the short time available, I will make some brief comments. I acknowledge the assistance of the Australian diplomatic personnel in those three countries. I thank them for their hospitality, their genuine goodwill and their guidance to the delegation.

It is interesting that the free trade agreement with Thailand has been part of the legislation in this parliament today. Some 12 months ago, last November, it was very much part of the delegation's discussion in Thailand. It is a pleasure to those of us on the delegation that this free trade agreement will be approved in the parliament. The delegation followed the Prime Minister and the foreign minister to Bangkok, so we were of rather lesser consideration because of the importance of the free trade agreement. It was apparent to the delegation that the Thai economy is booming and that Thailand is an excellent country with which to engage in a free trade agreement, and I think it augurs well for the future. It was also obvious to the delegation that there were good economic and political ties between both countries, developed from World War II.

The highlight of our trip in Thailand was the visit to Hellfire Pass. Mr Deputy Speaker Jenkins, I have had the privilege of being there with you on a previous occasion. Hellfire Pass certainly demonstrates the spirit and soul of those soldiers who fought in Thailand during World War II. The Thailand-Burma Railway Museum is a great tribute to those service personnel who lost their lives or were maimed by disease or injury. We can see exactly what took place. Mr Deputy Speaker, we acknowledge Rod Beattie who was there when you and I were there in 1996. The delegation saw first-hand in Thailand people trafficking young females in Bangkok. It was quite a moving experience to see the tragedy, in human terms, of those activities.

In Vietnam, we saw the different cultures of the north and the south. I had not been there before. It was interesting to see in the north that Hanoi is a market economy run by a different regime. North Vietnam is certainly moving ahead quite rapidly. The bicycle reigns supreme in Hanoi. That is a lasting impression we have. In Ho Chi Minh City, we visited the RMIT outpost, and that was an interesting experience. We visited some of the farmers in the delta and saw some of the experiments going on there. The AusAID programs in HIV-AIDS were very practical. Itinerant workers were advised about sexual practices. I think that program had a lot to commend it.

Our visit to Cambodia was a very thought-provoking experience. It is a war-ravaged country. The impacts of the Khmer Rouge and people trafficking came home first-hand to the delegation. We were surprised to learn that in the parliament of Cambodia the government of the day has to obtain a two-thirds majority, and that has resulted in a hung parliament. One of the highlights in Cambodia was to meet King Norodom Sihanouk. His warmth and friendship to the delegation was quite remarkable. He was full of commendations for his old friends in Australia and for the very warm friendships he has had with many Australian leaders over his 50 years as king of that country. We visited the Documentation Centre of Cambodia in Phnom Penh. That was a stark experience for those who read about the Khmer Rouge in the legal documentation identifying the victims of that horrific regime which, it is estimated, slaughtered more than two million people. Cambodia has very strong ties with Australia, and they are to be fostered and commended.

In my experience, these parliamentary visits cement ties, friendships and goodwill between these countries. This delegation was no exception.