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Monday, 21 October 2002
Page: 5560

Senator BARTLETT (Leader of the Australian Democrats) (10:04 PM) —I rise to speak in the Senate this evening about the Ship for World Youth, a significant international cultural exchange program coordinated by the cabinet office of the government of Japan. The government of Japan hosts this program, one of many, in the interests of increasing international mutual cooperation and understanding. Each year since 1989, the Ship for World Youth has brought together around 250 young people from around the world. Over a two-month period these young people are involved in a wide range of activities aimed at fostering cultural sensitivity, understanding and friendship. The formal discussion program has included such topics as the United Nations, globalisation, the environment, women and gender issues, education and volunteering.

Most of the program is conducted on board a ship, the Nippon Maru, with some activities in Japan and others in a number of ports of call around the world that are visited in the course of the voyage. Each year a different mix of nations is invited to participate and the ports of call are in different countries. Nearly 4,000 young people from 62 countries have participated in this program. The latest program—Ship for World Youth No. 15—will bring the number of young Australians who have participated since 1989 to over 100. Twelve young Australians will arrive in Japan tomorrow to participate in this year's program, together with young people from countries as diverse as Cameroon, Canada, Chile, Fiji, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Sri Lanka, Spain, Tonga, the USA and Venezuela.

The 15th Ship for World Youth will leave port at the end of the month. The ship will visit Cairns in Far North Queensland on 8 and 9 November as one of its ports of call. It will be welcomed in Cairns by a number of members of Ship for World Youth Australia—the alumni association for past participants, with many distinguished members—as well as young people from Cairns; the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Larry Anthony; and representatives of the Department of Family and Community Services Youth Bureau, who have helped support the Australian participants.

Geoscience Australia have contributed posters of the Great Barrier Reef region for ship participants, and I acknowledge and thank them for their assistance. Members may be familiar with some of the posters, particularly the nifty ones with the 3-D glasses that give a real multidimensional perspective on the nature of the Barrier Reef and the ocean region off Northern Queensland. Those posters will be handed over to participants whilst they are in Cairns. Over the years a number of Australian companies have also contributed gifts to the ship—from wattle seed biscuits to Indigenous artworks and local wines—out of generosity as well as for the wonderful opportunity to introduce top-value Australian products to an international audience.

I am sure that this year's participants from around the world will greatly enjoy the wonders of Cairns and particularly the Great Barrier Reef and the marine park surrounding it—Queensland's great ecological wonder. It is, of course, under threat from climate change. It is worth noting in passing the Japanese government's much more progressive approach on the issue of supporting the Kyoto protocol than, unfortunately, that of our own Australian government. That neglect is actually putting this great natural wonder—and great economic wonder—at greater risk.

With participants from a diverse range of countries eating, sleeping, working and living side by side for weeks on end in the enclosed space of the ship, there are many opportunities for improving cultural understanding, for learning the principles of international cooperation and, indeed, for individual personal growth. The opportunities and benefits of having contact with people from different backgrounds, different cultures, different ways of thinking and different understandings is immeasurable. It is particularly valuable for young people who are looking for different ideas and who are about to set out on making a great contribution to their own nation. It is common for participants to say that their participation has been a life-changing experience. They gain not only a better understanding of other nations' cultures but also a greater understanding and a better pride in their own culture. I am sure that senators and others listening would appreciate that contact with other cultures often helps us to develop a greater appreciation of some of the positives in our own nation.

The problems of the world, of course, are not going to be solved by a two-month program such as this. Programs like this, however, encourage participants to have a better understanding of this world and an experience of how people from different nations, perspectives and backgrounds can live together peacefully, learn from each other and work together to overcome differences and misunderstandings. The aims and objectives of the Ship for World Youth are to foster the spirit of international cooperation and the competence to actually put it into practice; to promote friendship and mutual understanding between the youth of Japan and the youth of other parts of the world, such as Australia; to broaden the international awareness of participants; and to develop young people who are capable of playing leading roles in various sectors of their societies and who, in turn, can contribute to the development of young people in their own countries.

This program is only one of a number of international youth programs that the International Youth Exchange Organisation of Japan supports, including the Ship for South-East Asia Youth Program and the Renaissance Youth Leaders Invitation Program. It is my view that the Japanese government should be congratulated for their recognition and support for the real new world order, which is that countries are not just isolated, independent nations but components of an interwoven world, one that we cannot back away from but that we must actively and positively seek to embrace in a constructive and human way.

Nations that once fought with each other are now learning a complex but fascinating cultural dance. The challenges we face in the future will be overcome not through competition but through cooperation with each other across national boundaries. That is how we will be successful in getting nations to successfully negotiate treaties and adopt shared approaches that protect our common human interests on big issues such as people-smuggling, drug- and arms-smuggling, environmental protection, global warming, arms control and terrorism, which is obviously a much more prominent threat in Australians' minds in our own region after recent events.

I thank the Australian government for the support that it provides for Australian participants in this valuable program and I congratulate the Japanese government for its ongoing role for many years now in contributing through this program to a positive sense of global community, to an increased understanding of our commonalities and differences and, most of all, to how we can better work together for peace and wellbeing across many nations.