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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 2174

Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (17:28): Together with the member for Wakefield, I was a member of the delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the NATO Parliamentary Assembly. I am pleased to speak to this delegation report: Parliamentary delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Strasbourg, and the 57th annual session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly.

Firstly, I would very much like to thank Mr Richard Selth, delegation secretary, for his assistance and efforts in putting this report together. His experience was particularly relevant and useful for us during the activities of the delegation. Thanks also to the DFAT staff for their comprehensive briefings and advice prior to the delegation's departure. On the administration side, thanks also to the team at the Australian parliament's International and Community Relations Office, particularly Mr Paul Jeanroy, who, as all MPs and senators would be aware, does some great work in this area.

The delegation presented a great opportunity for me to learn about relevant issues happening in the world. Our first stop was at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, between 4 and 5 October. Europe has been so completely occupied with the debt crisis and the challenges of the eurozone. This visit allowed the delegation to get a real understanding of the realities and struggles to resolve these issues. As we continue to see to this day that the problems and the focus in Europe remain a high priority for eurozone members, it is hard to see true economic stability being restored in Europe anytime soon. I was able to make a short speech at the Council of Europe, where I stressed the importance of living within one's means. Although I was later congratulated by the Secretary-General of the OECD, Mr Angel Gurria, it did not seem to be greatly appreciated by the majority of parliamentarians there. That is something that I can live with. I should also make mention of the assistance of Ms Joanne Frederiksen, Deputy Permanent Representative of Australia to the OECD, who provided us with good assistance for our visit to the Council of Europe.

The second part of our program was our visit to, and participation in, the 57th annual session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Bucharest from 7 to 9 October 2011. I note the assistance of the Australian Honorary Consul in Romania, Mr George Prelea. He was particularly useful and we were very well looked after. I thank Mr Prelea and his wife for their support and warm hospitality. Having been a major in the Australian Army, it was good to be able to interact with members of parliament from NATO countries and other nations and to hear the opinions and perspectives on matters such as the war in Afghanistan, the NATO members' intervention in Libya and geopolitical developments on the edges of Europe. I would say, from my participation in the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, the conservative political group meeting and at several of the committee sessions, it was fascinating to witness the interaction between nations and political groups. I saw the way in which the Russian delegation had been invited to participate but on all occasions that I witnessed they adopted a critical approach to NATO and strongly pursued their national interests, even when the discussion did not mention them. I certainly discussed my observations with the Liberal Democrat MP from the United Kingdom and the participation of a highly critical Russia was clearly the source of great irritation with NATO member delegates. I also note that the political groups were very keen to ensure that they were well or at least properly represented in the leading positions in each of the committees. There certainly seemed to be a strong alliance of political philosophy that in some cases appeared to transcend national groupings.

I would also take the opportunity to comment on the interactions between NATO members regarding the intervention that saw air strikes on government forces in Libya. This saw the United Kingdom and France supported by the United States on one side, with a block of critical nations on the other including Italy, Germany and Spain. Those nations were quite negative about the intervention and Russia also spoke against self-glorification. As I have already said, I found the interactions at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly fascinating. The importance of working with political friends was clearly evident and important in the multilateral environment. The involvement of Russia and the tolerance of their constant criticism was surprising, and also the way in which geopolitical events were approached and dealt with by the member nations of NATO.

It is my view that the Australian parliament should continue to attend the NATO Parliamentary Assembly so that we can better understand and appreciate the intricacies of Europe. It was a very good and useful experience and others should have the opportunity I have had. Before I conclude I would say briefly on Romania that the hospitality was very great from the members of the Romanian parliament, but it was very clear as well that there were problems with governance and corruption in Romania, which I am sure is distressing to Australians of Romanian descent. I reiterate that it was a great opportunity to attend these assemblies and I congratulate again Richard Selth and Paul Jeanroy and thank them for their efforts for us.

Debate adjourned.