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Monday, 26 March 2001
Page: 25553

Dr SOUTHCOTT (12:31 PM) —I present the report of the Australian Parliamentary Delegation to Bangladesh and India entitled An emerging South Asia. The parliamentary delegation spent two weeks in November visiting Bangladesh and India for one week each. In both countries there was a high level of awareness and interest in Australia and our bilateral relations. Particularly given the timing, there was in both countries, at all levels, an appreciation of the good job Australia had done in hosting the Olympic Games. I would like to thank all members of the delegation, especially Greg McIntosh, the delegation secretary; the member for Charlton, Ms Kelly Hoare, who was deputy leader in Bangladesh; the member for Oxley, Mr Bernie Ripoll, the deputy leader in India; and also Senator Ross Lightfoot.

In Bangladesh we had several meetings with government and opposition members and met the Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, and the opposition leader, Madam Khaleda Zia. The delegation focused on the institute of parliament and noted the rich and deep exchanges between Australia and Bangladesh, not just in the parliament but also in the library and Speaker's office. For example, in the Bangladesh Speaker's office we met a gentleman who had spent a period working in your office in Canberra, Mr Speaker. However, all members expressed the view that, for parliamentary democracy to operate in full, the opposition needed to participate in full. This has not been happening. The BNP in Bangladesh has been boycotting the parliament.

The delegation also met with Professor Yunus of the Grameen Bank and heard how he had developed a system of microcredit. We visited MATLAB, which is world famous for its development of the oral rehydration solution and epidemiological studies of a developing country population. We also visited the Chittagong Hill tracts and saw how Australian aid is being spent on sustainable food programs and the progress made in the peace process there.

The delegation visited India in a year that had also seen visits by the foreign minister, the Prime Minister, the Minister for Trade and, after we left, the minister responsible for IT. This demonstrates the increased interest from Australia in India. In several meetings we discussed with former judges and the Minister for Justice the similarities between the development of the common law in Australia and India and also the federal systems of government we both share.

IT was an area that the delegation was interested in. It certainly captured Australia's imagination. We need to point out that it accounts for only one per cent of India's economy and is largely concentrated in centres like Bangalore and Hyderabad. But, even so, India produces more IT graduates than anywhere else and there is significant Australian foreign investment in this area. We were also impressed by the interest shown by Indian parliamentarians in last year's coup in Fiji, their support for Australia's approach and their encouragement for Australia to do more.

Another issue that was raised often concerned the 8,000 Indian students now studying in Australia. I note that Australia is now No. 2 after the United States for Indian students studying overseas. While there I was able to attend a disaster management seminar which was hosted by the Australia-India Council, and chaired by Michael Abbott QC. Both Australia and India cope with droughts, earthquakes, floods and cyclones—they have similar problems—and this was a useful example of second-track diplomacy and an exchange of approaches. Shortly after we were there, an earthquake occurred in Rajasthan. Hopefully, some of the expertise that was exchanged was of use there.

We also had detailed briefings on the spread of HIV-AIDS. Australia is seen in India as a country which has successfully contained HIV-AIDS. The delegation believes that HIV is still spreading in India and more needs to be done. We support more resources to assist in this area.

The delegation appreciates the support, assistance and hospitality it received from the parliaments of both Bangladesh and India and from the Australian high commissions in both countries. It is not possible to list individually all the people who helped and supported the visit, but we would like to thank the following people. In Bangladesh: the Speaker of the parliament, the honourable Humayyun Rashid Chowdhury; other members and staff from the parliament, including Mr Nojibur Rahman and Mr Shahidul Mamun; and the High Commissioner in Bangladesh, Mr Robert Flynn and his staff, including the Deputy High Commissioner, Ms Julienne Iftenne. In India there were the Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the Honourable Balayogi; the Honourable P. M. Sayeed, the Deputy Speaker; the Australian High Commissioner in India, Mr Robert Laurie, and his staff, including the Deputy High Commissioner, Mr Bryce Hutchesson, Miss Julie Ann Guivarra, Miss Bernadette McDonald, Ms Judith O'Neill, Mr Rick Kovac, Ms Elizabeth Ward and Ms Gillian Mellsop. I seek leave to include my acknowledgments in my speech. (Time expired)

Mr SPEAKER —This is an unusual course of events. I think it may be opportune to see whether there is time at the conclusion of the reports to allow the member for Boothby to add to his speech.