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Monday, 22 June 2009
Page: 6786

Mr RANDALL (9:19 PM) —I present the report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to Colombia and Argentina from 9 to 24 August 2008. The bilateral visit in August last year was an opportunity for parliamentarians to learn more about Colombia and Argentina, to promote Australia and to strengthen bilateral ties. The delegation was the first Australian parliamentary visit to Colombia and the first in some years to Argentina. The report I tabled today details our program activities and observations.

I wish to acknowledge my delegation colleagues. The delegation leader was Senator Steve Hutchins and we were joined by Senator Marise Payne, Senator Helen Polley, Mr Luke Hartsuyker MP and Ms Melissa Parke MP. Each delegate was an enthusiastic participant in discussions and inspections and contributed significantly to the purpose of the delegation visit in a spirit of bipartisanship and goodwill.

The delegation visited Colombia first, from 8 to 15 August. In Bogota we had the distinct honour of meeting the Colombian President, Mr Alvaro Uribe, as well as the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Jaime Bermudez. Uribe’s administration has ushered in a suite of reforms which have improved security, facilitated economic growth and introduced new health and education programs. Wherever we went in Colombia we learned that the perception of Colombia in the past is not necessarily the reality of Colombia today. Colombians have a renewed sense of self-esteem about their institutions and optimism about their country’s future.

We were warmly received by the President of the Senate, Senator Hernan Andrade, and parliamentarians from the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, and we were impressed by our counterparts’ level of interest in Australia. Engaging discussions were held on a range of foreign relations and trade matters, including the latest Doha round; foreign direct investment; free trade agreements; alternative sources of energy; and the scope for further cooperation in the mining, agribusiness and education industries. The delegation leader also had the pleasure of addressing the Colombian Senate, which was broadcast to a potential audience of 40 million people.

In addition to meetings with parliamentarians and officials from government departments in Bogota, the delegation had a number of engagements outside the capital. Highlights included a visit to Cerrejon mine, which is one-third owned by BHP Billiton and is the world’s largest open pit coalmine, and their local school for indigenous children. We also had valuable meetings with local government and business representatives in Cartagena and visited the award-winning port of Cartagena. We enjoyed participating in a forum on Australia’s relations with Latin America with university students in Medellin who were keen to learn more about Australia. It is not that well known that Colombia sends 5,000 students to study in Australian tertiary institutions each year. In Medellin we also visited the Parque Biblioteca Espana, an unusual and successful development project which uses modern architecture and public spaces to inspire social change in disadvantaged communities.

From 16 to 22 August the delegation visited Argentina. This leg of the journey was commenced in the Misiones province during a long weekend in order to see the management of large tourist flows at Iguazcu Falls and to inspect the world’s largest hydroelectric dam over the border at Itaipu in Brazil. In Buenos Aires the delegation was honoured to meet the President of the Senate and Vice-President of Argentina, Julios Cobos, and the respective chairs of the foreign affairs committees in the Senate and lower house, together with colleagues from different parties in the Argentine congress, including members of the Australian Argentine Parliamentary Friendship Group. We acknowledge the tremendous assistance and support that Senator Sonia Escudero, Chair of the Friendship Group, provided to us during the visit. Both the Australian and Argentinian parliaments benefit from her passion and enthusiasm for Australia. It is not well known but she is married to a former Australian MP.

Mr Kerr —Who is that?

Mr RANDALL —Ken, from the New South Wales upper house—it will come to me shortly.

Mr Kerr —Ken Gabb?


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke)—Let him finish. Stop interrupting.

Mr RANDALL —A range of bilateral issues were discussed at official meetings with parliamentary and government officials, including the respective parliamentary committee systems, shared interests in peacekeeping and environmental matters such as the preservation of Antarctica and wild conservation, the scope for further collaboration in nuclear science and technology, climate change, and the proposed work on holiday visa arrangements for Australia. All agreed that the latter would encourage greater people to people exchanges. We also visited the Memory Museum in Argentina which pays homage to the victims of the military dictatorships. (Time expired).

Mr RANDALL —Madam Deputy Speaker, I ask that the remainder of my speech be incorporated.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —I cannot allow that but, if you wait for two minutes and you go to the sheet in front of you, you will find that you will have another opportunity in the Main Committee. That is why I was trying to stop the Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs from interrupting. The time allocated for statements on this report has expired. Does the member for Canning wish to move a motion in connection with the report to enable it to be debated on a future occasion?

Mr RANDALL —I move:

That the House take note of the report.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —In accordance with standing order 39 the debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.