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Monday, 23 November 2009
Page: 8619

Senator IAN MACDONALD (8:53 PM) —by leave—I present the report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to Tonga and Vanuatu, which took place from 22 July to 1 August 2009 and seek leave to move a motion to take note of the document.

Leave granted.

Senator IAN MACDONALD —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I am delighted to speak to the report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to Tonga and Vanuatu. I start by paying tribute to the leader of the delegation, Mr Kelvin Thomson, the member for Wills, and to the other member of the delegation apart from me, Senator Claire Moore, a colleague in the Senate and a fellow Queenslander. I do not agree with Senator Moore on many things, but on this report I certainly do. Senator Moore made a very significant contribution and I hope she has an opportunity tonight to speak to the report and the issues of particular importance to her.

While the delegation that went to these two South Pacific friends and neighbours of Australia was very small in number, I would like to think that that was more than counterbalanced by its quality and efficiency. I want to pay particular tribute to Ms Lynette Mollard, who, as many in this chamber will know, does a fantastic job in whatever she puts her mind to. In this instance, she was the secretary of the delegation and I—and I am sure I speak for all delegation members—have the utmost admiration for the work that Ms Mollard did in this delegation and does generally.

I would also like to thank some people in the nations we visited. In Tonga, His Majesty King George Tupou V was not in the country, but the delegation were grateful to be received by the Prime Minister of Tonga, Dr Feleti V Sevele. In Vanuatu, we were delighted to be associated with and welcomed by the President, Kalkot Mataskelekele Mauliliu. We were also privileged to meet with the Prime Minister and the leader of the opposition in our visit there. For personal reasons I was unable to be in Tonga, which was a great disappointment to me because I had an association with Tonga before I came to this parliament. As fate would have it, I was not able to be there. My remarks will be confined, unfortunately perhaps, to our visit to Vanuatu, which was a very enlightening experience for me and, I am sure, for the rest of the Australian delegation.

I pay particular tribute to Mr Pablo Kang, our High Commissioner to Vanuatu. I also pay tribute to his staff and to the staff of Tonga for the tremendous support and assistance provided both prior to and during the delegation, particularly Ms Carol Gransbury, the first secretary in Tonga; Ms Sue Langford, the Deputy High Commissioner; and Ms Kendra Derousseau and Ms Freya Beaumont, both from AusAID, who are running the Australian program in Vanuatu.

I smiled when I mentioned our High Commissioner in Vanuatu, His Excellency Mr Pablo Kang. He will not mind me saying this. With a name like Pablo Kang you would think he would have to be either Mexican or Chinese. He is neither—he is a very Australian Australian. But he has the facial consequences of his obvious Chinese birth. The delegation were competing with a delegation from mainland China, who tried to engage our high commissioner in conversation, assuming he was well versed in the Chinese language. It was an interesting and humorous by-product of our visit. He neither spoke Mandarin nor had more than a family relationship with the Republic of China. But that is by the way. I congratulate His Excellency and his staff on the fabulous work that they do in Vanuatu and certainly on the way they looked after the delegation.

Time does not permit me to go through the report at any length, but I urge honourable senators and those who might be listening to look at the report. It does give a very good insight into Australia’s relationships with both Tonga and Vanuatu. Can I highlight that Vanuatu—and, as I indicated, this was the part of the visit that I concentrated on—is the only Pacific Island country eligible for funding under the Millennium Challenge Account. It is in that position because it has been recognised for encouraging good governance. Under the auspices of the Millennium Challenge Account, Vanuatu is receiving over US$65 million for a new transport infrastructure program to benefit rural agricultural producers and providers of tourism related goods and services. I want to emphasise that Vanuatu is one of the few countries around the world that is recognised for its commitment to democracy and to parliamentary administration. It is for that reason that it is able to participate in the Millennium Challenge Account.

I want to mention with some pride that 72 per cent of the GDP of Vanuatu relates to Australia’s direct involvement in commercial tourism—and I am proud to say I have been there a couple of times myself on a cruise boat. It is what keeps the main economy of Vanuatu going. It is estimated that some 1,200 people are directly employed in the tourism sector. Increased tourism has had a flow-on effect on the services economy, with heightened demand for production of goods and services such as transport, communications, wholesale and retail trade, banking, insurance, hotel accommodation and service. Almost all of the 180 cruise ship passengers who come into Port Vila are Australian, and two-thirds of the long stay tourists are Australian. The port that we docked at is small and, I regret to say, inefficient, outdated and expensive to operate. The Japanese are looking at building a new wharf. Continued growth in Vanuatu’s tourism sector will be crucial to providing employment opportunities for the young and the rapidly growing population in Vanuatu.

The delegation spent a night on Tanna, and I want to spend a couple of seconds in the very limited opportunity I have to debate this motion to say to anyone who might be listening that Tanna is a place you should go. I always thought we had bad roads in Northern Australia but, compared to Tanna, Northern Australian roads look first class. The road from the airport is awful, but if you follow it to the volcano it is worth every bump that you feel on the way. The volcano is a fabulous tourism experience. There are not many places in the world where you can stand on top of a volcano and see it erupt, I think, every six seconds. It was a real experience and one I recommend.

I am proud to say that AusAID, the Australian overseas development organisation, is upgrading the road. As I recall, some $20 million has gone into building the road from the airport up to the volcano. It is great for the local economy. They will use the road for many other purposes. But to bring very much needed foreign currency into the country Tanna, with its volcano, is something you must see. I recommend to any senator and any member of the Australian public who happens to be listening to go to Tanna. The volcano is something you will never experience anywhere else in your life. There are many more things I would like to say about this, and I hope we have an opportunity later to highlight the experiences of the delegation. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.