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Monday, 29 May 2000
Page: 16381

Mr HARDGRAVE (12:31 PM) —I present the report of the Commonwealth of Australia Branch Delegation to the 45th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference held in the republic of Trinidad and Tobago, September 1999. The Commonwealth Parliamentary Association represents almost a third of the world's population and over 50 countries. As a forum for international debate, I submit it is second only to the United Nations, but in so many ways a lot more relevant than the United Nations because it speaks for the people of the nations it represents through the various parliaments.

The membership of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association is perhaps even more highly valued by smaller nations within the Commonwealth. A lot of them, whilst adhering to parliamentary democracies, obviously have a fragile state of affairs. Perhaps recent events in Fiji underline the statement in itself. It is also interesting to note, Mr Speaker, as you would know as an active advocate for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, that countries have literally been queuing up over the past decade to join and be associated with the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

Perhaps members may find it of interest to know that even organisations like the Palestine Liberation Organisation saw membership of the CPA as something to aspire to and something they could qualify for. During the 1990s more than 20 new parliaments and legislatures were admitted to, or resumed membership of, the CPA. They include Cameroon, the newly created Indian states and territories, Mozambique, Pakistan and its provinces, the Seychelles, South Africa and its provinces, Uganda, and Zanzibar in Tanzania. The island republic of Fiji rejoined the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association following the coups over 10 years ago. One suspects that, after what has occurred in recent weeks, naturally enough they would be disqualified from membership of the organisation as it currently stands.

I stand here today to table this report on behalf of all members of the House of Representatives because I was the only member of this place to have attended the 45th conference in Trinidad and Tobago in September of last year. Several senators also went along to represent Australia at the conference. At the outset I acknowledge the company of Senators Alan Eggleston, Mark Bishop and Trish Crossin, and thank them. The delegation was led by Madam President in the Senate, ACT Senator Margaret Reid. At the conference Senator Reid was rewarded for her activities on behalf of you, Mr Speaker, and all members and senators by her election to the position of Vice-President of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association for this year. The position will fold into the elected position of President of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association next year. This parliament will be hosting the 47th international conference of all members of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in Canberra in this place next year.

I think it is quite timely, given what has occurred in Fiji and that the CPA will be meeting here in Canberra in a couple of years, to run through some of the basic values a lot of us may find Australians taking for granted and what the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association stands for. The association itself was founded in 1911 and there are now 142 national, state, provincial and territorial parliaments involved in the organisation, representing 14,000 parliamentarians across the world. The values of our nation are underpinned by parliamentary democracy. The CPA holds various seminars to try to wash some of those values into smaller nations, seminars to assist them with some of their particular developmental problems, and seminars to help them before, during and after elections to assess what has occurred and whether or not the systems they have in place have sufficiently served parliamentary democracy well. We should be concerned about nations which do not live up to the same values of human rights, freedom and parliamentary democracy we have in this country—not in a hostile or lecturing sort of way, but rather in a way which encourages nations to know a little bit more about us and what we stand for and what the Commonwealth itself stands for.

As I said before, perhaps the role of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association as an organisation is appreciated more by smaller nations than larger countries like ours. Some in Australia, dare I say, see the CPA as simply an excuse for a trip overseas, which is very sad, and members of the media are always quick to report when parliamentarians do their job of representing their nation and their constituents in other jurisdictions. But I submit to you that international reaction to what has occurred in Fiji is proof positive of why we need the good work which can come from parliament to parliament interaction, from parliamentarian to parliamentarian interaction. The friendships which can be built, the associations which can be created and the understanding which can be fostered all under the umbrella of organisations like the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association do stand our world in very good stead.

The basis of the CPA is a body of the representatives of the people of each of the nations that are involved. It is important to note that countries in our region are clamouring to understand more about proper parliamentary procedures. Not too many months ago, this parliament hosted a small but impressive delegation from Papua New Guinea which came here deliberately to find out about our committee system and about electoral reform. Papua New Guinea is a nation where, despite its long—in comparison to other nations—parliamentary tradition, ballot rigging still perverts the outcome of its elections and creates all sorts of pressures on the citizenry as a result; perhaps the sorts of pressures that are behind what has occurred in Fiji.

It is important for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association to enjoy the support of the executive of this nation as well and that proper resources are made available to the parliament to allow parliamentarians to foster the sort of personal and systemic relationship that I think could serve our nation and the nations around us extremely well. That Papua New Guinea are looking at parliamentary reform only reflects the fact that there are nations near us that are also—whilst outside the Commonwealth—looking at parliamentary reform. Talking to individual members of a small delegation from Indonesia, I know that Indonesia is looking closely at parliamentary reform—reform that will open up the parliament to the people and give them the opportunity to feel well satisfied that their key institutions are reflecting the views and aspirations of the population. If those pressures that could come from not having the right sorts of reforms and systems in place are actually allowed to spill over, the consequences for this country are immense, are enormous. So parliamentary interaction—person to person, committee to committee—is very important. I would certainly like to see, particularly as we run down to a Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference to be held here in Canberra in a year and a half's time, an even greater role for the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, enhanced by even greater assistance from the executive.

I do not think anybody in this place wants to go about lecturing other countries and imposing our values on others, but I think that, by exposing our values, our parliamentary traditions and the importance we place on disclosure, accountability and keeping always the people in mind, we can offer a lot of nations the chance to consider and perhaps adopt similar approaches to ours. At the very least, that sort of conduct does allow us to show others a little about ourselves, about who we are and why we are and what the systems are, and those people can then gain some respect and admiration or perhaps just plain old understanding of why what we do is so important. In our desire to expand democratic parliamentary traditions, we of course cannot forget maintaining what we ready have. In this regard the government's efforts to put money into a nation like Fiji after what had occurred a dozen years ago to try and inform and enforce good governance and good systems—reform of the civil service, basic education and other matters—is to be congratulated. But, as I have said, it is not a matter of money alone; it really is a matter of trying to bring about more and more of this good conduct through these associations such as the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association.

The trip to Trinidad and Tobago opened up my eyes to the good conduct of this organisation and its enormous potential in our own region. I have learnt now, as the acting regional representative for Australia in this place, that nations in Africa and in the Pacific particularly want to hold on closely to mature democracies such as those in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Great Britain. What we have to do is rise to the challenge and return the faith that these people put in us. In closing, I also thank—I have already mentioned the elected representatives—Brendhan Egan, Chris Paterson and Jim Pender. (Time expired)

Mr SPEAKER —Order! The time allotted for debate on the report has expired.