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Monday, 3 March 1997
Page: 1672

Mr BOB BALDWIN(12.54 p.m.) —I rise to speak to the report of the delegation to the South Pacific conference in Saipan and bilateral visits to Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia. Clearly, I would like to echo the thoughts of my colleague, the outstanding leader of the delegation, Mr Eoin Cameron, the member for Stirling. I would also like to praise our travelling companion Dr Tony Murney, who, as Eoin said, worked extremely hard to make sure that all of the hiccups one encounters when travelling through areas in the South Pacific were met with a minimum amount of trouble and it is a credit to the man to have resolved them.

I would like to go through individually the different countries that we travelled to on our trip between 22 October and 8 November. After departing Cairns, we went to Papua New Guinea, a country that we now hear is so torn by strife with the introduction of mercenaries to seek a resolution to the Bougainville crisis. Whilst that issue was not a key part of our visit and we did not visit Bougainville, it did rest in our minds with the assassination of Mr Miriung, the representative of the people in that area.

The hospitality extended to us by the Speaker, Sir Rabbie Namaliu and, in particular, the sergeant who travelled with us through the areas of Papua New Guinea, and Mr Legu Vagi, a former member of parliament, pointed out some peculiarities. It was a touch of going back in time as, over 20 years ago, I resided in Papua New Guinea, in Port Moresby. So it was a revisiting of areas that were particularly important to me. One thing I did notice immediately upon touching down in Port Moresby was something that concerned me 20 years ago, that is, that areas around Port Moresby do not have the benefit of electric ovens and stoves. Indeed, the way that they cook a lot of the basic sustenance food is by wood fire stoves. The major thing—and I commented to my colleague Eoin Cameron at the time—was the lack of forestation around Port Moresby, in particular for an area that does rely so heavily on timber for basic life provision. One would have thought that they perhaps could have concentrated some of their efforts in replanting trees around the Moresby area to provide an ongoing resource of timber directly as needed.

We also visited the Bomana war cemetery. That was a very eye-opening experience and something that I will remember for a long time. Due credit must go to Mr Carter, the caretaker of the cemetery. I have to say the manicured lawns, their condition and the state of the graves were a definite credit to him. Having looked at the names and, in particular, the ages of the fallen soldiers whose graves lie there and having seen the graves of some of the unnamed soldiers who lie there, one can bring back a message to the people of Australia that they should be very proud of the people who gave their lives in New Guinea and on the Kokoda Trail in defending our freedoms.

You have already heard my colleague mention my particular interest in fishing and forestry. I particularly looked at that when we went to discuss areas of fishing, illegal fishing vessels and, in particular, the actions to be taken by the government. One thing that I will report back to this parliament is that there seems to be a concentrated effort through the whole of the South Pacific to apprehend illegal fishing vessels; this effort has met with different rates of success.

We visited Rabaul to see the devastation caused by the volcano, which was still erupting as we flew into Rabaul Harbour. There were remnants of the old airport with the planes still down. The runway was some 12 feet or four metres under ash and the town had to be relocated 30 miles to the south. Seventy per cent of Rabaul was devastated by the volcanic eruption, but amazingly, only five people died in that whole disaster. To the credit of the organisers and administrators of that area, they have been able to relocate with minimum interruption. The process of picking up a whole town and relocating it 30 miles away makes you think of the spirit and perhaps, as it was termed to me when I lived there, the attitude of the land of the Dehore, that is, if it does not happen today, it will happen tomorrow and, if not tomorrow, then possibly next week or the week after. They have resettled very well and, I must say, under very good direction.

The trip also took in the Solomon Islands. I must commend the staff at the Australian High Commission in the Solomon Islands and, in particular, His Excellency, Mr Rob Flynn. I have not seen networking such as what this man has been able to produce in the Solomon Islands. Our thanks go to the Speaker, Mr Paul Tovua, and to Mr James Saliga, the clerk of the national parliament, for their hospitality. They were to be here last week but with an interruption to the flights they were not able to make it. I do look forward to meeting them when they come.

As my colleague said, on 27 October another solemn experience was visiting the war grave of the HMAS Canberra, which sank on 9 August, 1942 in the Battle of Guadalcanal, with the loss of 84 Australian lives. The war history through the Solomons is something that is to be experienced and, when you visit areas where Australians have laid down their lives for peace, it makes the throat choke. I do not think, particularly with the coming of Anzac Day, that any of us should forget the sacrifices that people have made for us.

With Assistant Commissioner Mick Wheatley, we had the opportunity to inspect the patrol boat—there are two, but one was back in Townsville having an annual refit—and discuss the strategic planning, the way that they go through analysing on a needs and areas basis the use of the patrol boat, in particular for the deterrence and apprehension of illegal fishing. This led to one of my main interests which, as I have said, is fishing, and a visit to the Forum Fisheries Agency, where we met with Ian Cartwright, an Australian who is Deputy Director of Forum Fisheries in Honiara.

This is a collective of all the countries throughout the South Pacific which subscribe to the fishery industry on better management, particularly in relation to collection, analysis, evaluation and dissemination of statistical and biological data in relation to fisheries resources, provision of advice on fisheries management procedures, collection and dissemination of relevant information on prices, shipping and processing so that ongoing value adding can occur, and provision of technical experience in the development of fisheries policies. As an individual, I am very concerned about fishery policy as it affects the whole South Pacific. It would seem that, at points, Australia is one of the end recipients of the migratory fish that come down from the equator through the South Pacific. If there is too heavy fishing or the wrong type of fishing or wrong processes that occur at the very top end, Australia indeed is the loser at the very bottom end.

One of the things that gave me the greatest joy on the whole trip was when we met with John Gildea on the aid project in the Solomons. Australia has invested some $9 million in water supply, sanitation and teach ing projects. We took a trip down to the north-west of Guadalcanal and had a look at a project where they have built a water tank at the very top of a mountain. The water is collected from a spring and put into the tank, and then piped down the hill and taken out of taps and shower facilities at the different villages.

In addition to that, there was the provision of very basic sanitation through septic toilets. What happened previously was that all of the effluent would go into the river. The people at the very top of the river up the mountain were getting clean water but, by the time it got down to the beach, the people down there had less than pure areas to live in and go into.

As time is escaping me, I will quickly pass on to the subject of the Federated States of Micronesia, where His Excellency Perry Head—again, an outstanding networker through the South Pacific—has responsibilities for Guam, Federated States of Micronesia. He networks, to the benefit of Australia, looking for trade opportunities through there. My thanks must also go to Jack Fritz, the Speaker, for the hospitality provided there.

Again, aid projects such as the two patrol boats that were supplied—if we want to see proof in the pudding, there are four illegal Taiwanese fishing vessels tied up there, and the cases are waiting to go through the courts to decide their fate—provide clear evidence of the success of Australia's aid in these regions. (Time expired)