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Monday, 4 June 2001
Page: 27107

Mr SCIACCA (12:30 PM) —I present the report of the Commonwealth of Australia Branch Delegation to the 46th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference held in the United Kingdom, from 20 to 29 September 2000. The conference gave delegates the opportunity to visit the home of our system of parliamentary democracy, in Westminster, and the parliaments of Scotland and Wales that were established under the policy of devolution in 1999.

On the delegation, I was accompanied by the President of the Senate, the Hon. Margaret Reid; Senator Paul Calvert; Senator George Campbell, my parliamentary party colleague; the Hon. Ian Causley; and Mr Gary Hardgrave. On behalf of all delegates, I extend my thanks to Senator Reid, the delegation leader, and the delegation secretary, Mr Brendhan Egan, for their contribution towards the success of the conference.

The annual conferences organised by the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association aim to bring together parliamentarians representing the many and varying components of the Commonwealth of Nations in a forum in which common issues confronting all states that strive to maintain the rule of law and respect for human rights can be explored.

In officially opening the conference at Westminster Hall, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II praised the tradition of debate encouraged by the association and acknowledged the opportunities created by the annual meetings in enabling delegates to learn about the endeavours undertaken by governments around the world in the pursuit of the principles of parliamentary democracy and to assess and, where appropriate, remodel programs for implementation in our own countries to move closer towards both economic and social equality.

In addition to facilitating discussion about such important issues as poverty reduction, the prevention of environmental degradation, programs to combat the HIV-AIDS epidemic at an economic, social and political level and the International Criminal Court, the key theme of the 46th CPA conference was `Harnessing global communications to enhance democracy'. Discussion in this pertinent debate was framed by the keynote address of the Rt Hon. Robin Cook MP, UK Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. Mr Cook called upon delegates to seize the opportunities presented in the areas of trade, diplomacy and economic and social growth as the world becomes seemingly smaller every day as technology develops faster, more reliable and more cost-effective methods of communication. In particular, delegates were called upon to pursue, within their own countries and collectively, opportunities to build a Commonwealth of Nations united in prosperity, sustainable development, opportunity and human rights.

The challenges posed for democracy in the global age were further explored in the panel sessions. Several aspects of the relationship between parliament and the media were debated by delegates, including freedom of information legislation and human rights, making parliament newsworthy and the freedom of the press versus the invasion of privacy. From a personal perspective, I found very valuable the discussion on the important question of self-regulation versus government regulation of the media, which was chaired by our parliamentary colleague from New South Wales, the Hon. George Souris MP. The challenge of finding a balance between upholding the role of the media as a tool of enforcing the accountability of parliament and parliamentarians to the community and ensuring that the media is itself accountable for its actions is a pressing concern in a modern democracy. This question is particularly pressing in a country as vast as Australia where parliamentary business keeps so many of us away from our electorates for substantial periods during the year and our constituents have no choice but to rely on the media for news of the issues being addressed and activities being undertaken by their elected representatives.

As in all these delegations, when you are fortunate enough to travel with members and colleagues from the opposite side, I know that you always get a better understanding and a lot of friendships are forged. I did not have to make friends with my parliamentary colleagues on the opposite side of this parliament, but I had a fantastic relationship with the Leader of the National Party in New South Wales, George Souris. He is a terrific fellow. I do not particularly agree with his politics, but he is a great bloke. He is one of the best shoppers I have ever seen in my life. He is just a terrific bloke. I enjoyed his company very much, as I did the company of the honourable member for Page, the honourable member for Moreton, who is in the House now, and Senator Campbell.

I would like to thank all of the Australian delegates to the 46th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference, and I commend the report to the House.