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Wednesday, 11 August 2004
Page: 2104

Mr GAVAN O'CONNOR (4:48 PM) —by leave—It gives me great pleasure to rise in the House and endorse the report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia in November 2003, presented to the House by my colleague the member for Corangamite, Stewart McArthur, who led the delegation. Parliamentary delegations to other countries are an important part of the rich tapestry of responsibilities and experiences of parliamentary life, and constitute a significant pillar in Australia's political relationship with the rest of the world. Every day, the cultural and commercial relationships between Australia and other countries are played out in myriad contacts and exchanges between Australians and others. But in a very special way our positive relationship as a nation with countries in our region is maintained and enhanced by the intimate and shared understandings that naturally evolve from delegations involving politicians from national parliaments.

I have always treated such delegations seriously in their preparation, participation and reporting. They have always been exciting but humbling learning experiences that remain with all parliamentarians in a personal sense and throughout their parliamentary life. Therefore it was with great disappointment that I accepted medical and embassy advice to return home midway through the delegation's time away from Australia. I became seriously ill in Vietnam and I was advised that proceeding with the trip might exacerbate a pre-existing medical condition and lead to serious health consequences in the future. I have responsibilities to my family and my electorate, and it was with a great deal of reluctance that I accepted the medical and embassy advice and returned to Australia.

I pay tribute to the professional care and advice provided to me by our fine embassy staff in Hanoi, Vietnam. Their care and attention was evidence to me yet again that our nation is blessed with one of the most professional of diplomatic corps among the family of nations. That is a sentiment that no doubt applies to all staff with whom the delegation had contact in Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia.

I also thank our hosts in the two nations I was fortunate enough to visit before taking ill, namely Thailand and Vietnam. Your hospitality, courtesy and frankness in discussion has done much to build upon the positive relationship Australia has with you, and I look forward to the opportunity of reciprocating your hospitality when future delegations visit Australia.

I thank the other members of the delegation for their friendship and understanding. Many delegations that leave this parliament cannot claim to be a success from the point of view of harmonious and professional relationships between members. I think the supporting staff would agree that this delegation was an exceptionally good one from that point of view. The wisdom and experience of the leader, Mr McArthur, the infectious laughter of Senator Mason, the natural poise and enthusiasm of Senator Stott Despoja and the cooperative spirit that prevailed among members made this delegation a pleasure to be on.

My thanks go to Craig McPherson from the AFP, who provided the necessary security for the delegation in a timely and most professional manner in these troubled times we live in. Finally, I thank our secretary, Rosa, who toiled under quite difficult circumstances at times. Her cheerful demeanour, firm hand and professionalism ensured that this delegation was able to meet its stated objectives and submit to the parliament a comprehensive report of its activities with practical recommendations for further action.