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Wednesday, 1 December 2004
Page: 110

Senator HOGG (5:11 PM) —by leave—I present the report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to the 50th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference in Canada, and to the United States of America, which took place in September 2004. I seek leave to move a motion to take note of the document.

Leave granted.

Senator HOGG —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

It gives me great pleasure to present the report of the Australian parliamentary delegation that attended the 50th Conference of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in Canada and then made a bilateral visit to the United States. The delegation, which was away for the first half of September this year, consisted of Senator Buckland, Senator Tchen and me. While in Canada at the conference, we represented the Australian parliamentary branch of the CPA. The theme for the CPA conference was `Responsibilities and Rights of People and Parliamentarians in a Global Community'.

The conference brought together parliamentarians from across the Commonwealth to discuss issues. The conference also afforded delegates an opportunity to talk informally together, share experiences and build the friendships that can form the basis for future international cooperation. I had the honour of delivering a paper at the conference, on the topic of gender, democracy, peace and conflict. In the paper I noted the tremendous work done by Australia's women peacekeepers in our region. I should mention that the delegation came away from the plenary conference concerned at its scale. If these conferences were held once every two years instead of every year, then more resources may be available for the CPA's activities at the regional and local level. It is, after all, at these levels that the real work and benefit of the CPA is felt. Having said that, the conference was very well organised by our Canadian colleagues and the delegation left Canada with memories of our hosts' warm hospitality.

Given Canada's proximity to the United States, the delegation continued the tradition of biennial contacts between Australian and American parliamentarians during the second half of its time abroad. The political, security, economic and social ties between Australia and the United States bind our two countries together closely. The bilateral visit allowed the delegation an opportunity to explore the depth of those ties. The delegation met members of Congress and public administrators; toured a defense plant; spoke to a number of Australian business people working in the United States; and met political commentators and experts in their various fields.

We also used the visit to present an Australian perspective on issues and to gain an insight into American thinking. The war on terror and the US-Australia free trade agreement provided a backdrop to many of the discussions held by the delegation, particularly in Washington. In fact, the delegation was in Washington on the third anniversary of the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. We attended a very moving memorial service, principally for those who perished in the attack on the Pentagon building, and laid a wreath at the memorial to those who died so tragically. The delegation was very conscious of the heightened security at US border crossings and airports, and particularly in the streets and around the public buildings of Washington. The omnipresent security provided a sombre note to the delegation's discussions about US foreign policy and the war on terror.

As with the CPA conference, the visit to the United States allowed the delegation members to talk informally with members of another legislature and build on the already strong rapport between the two parliaments. The value of the visit was that it gave the delegation an opportunity to see issues of importance to Australia from the perspective of another country.

Before I conclude I would like to thank the President of the Senate, Senator the Hon. Paul Calvert, for allowing me to represent him at the CPA conference and also to lead the delegation. I also wish to thank my colleagues who travelled with me—Senator Tchen, who was the deputy leader of the delegation, and Senator Buckland—for making the delegation such a tight-knit and harmonious group. The delegation was enriched by the company of Senator Tchen's wife, Pauline, and my own wife, Sue.

I also wish to thank the many officials—Australian, Canadian and American—who helped the delegation at various stages of its trip. Further, I wish to record my thanks to the delegation secretary, Mr James Catchpole, who was ever vigilant in ensuring that we reached our appointments on time and that our meetings were conducted in a very businesslike manner. His professional approach to the whole trip was highly commendable, and I know it was appreciated by my colleagues. I commend the report to the Senate.