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Thursday, 21 June 2001
Page: 28396


Ms PLIBERSEK (11:38 AM) —I wanted to take the opportunity during this consideration in detail debate today to raise the issue of Australia's relationship with Slovenia, particularly because it is the 10th anniversary of Slovenian independence. I think it is an opportune moment to reflect a little bit on our relationship with this emerging country in eastern Europe.

As I said, this is the 10th anniversary of Slovenian independence and it is worth noting how far Slovenia has come in the 10 years since it has been independent. It is very likely that in the next round of accession to the European Union, Slovenia will be accepted into the European Union. There is also a very good chance that in the near future Slovenia will become a member of NATO. I think this is because Slovenian politics, unlike politics in much of the rest of the former Yugoslavia, has been fairly stable, although there are a large number of people who were active during the era of Slovenia's communist past still in Slovenian politics.

They have steered a very stable course through the economic transitions and social changes that have emerged with democracy. With the broad agreement of the Slovenian political movement and Slovenian community, there is a desire to join the European Union and to join NATO as well. The political climate there has been much more stable than in much of the former Yugoslavia.

Economically, Slovenia has also performed much better. This is a real opportunity for Australia as well. Slovenia's GDP purchasing power parity is around 70 per cent of the European Union average. I know that Australian businessman Gerry Harvey is very interested in Slovenia as an emerging economy, and I spoke to him last year about his plans to open up one of his large stores in Slovenia. At that time, he was looking for further opportunities to invest in Slovenia. It is certainly a possible market for Australia—we import a lot of Slovenian goods, particularly whitegoods, into Australia. I think that this relationship will continue to grow.

As I say, it is only 10 years since Slovenian independence. In that time there has been an enormous amount of economic improvement in Slovenia. Also, they have been very outward looking in terms of looking for new opportunities to trade with other countries. An excellent example of this was during the Olympics: Slovenians set up what was called Slovenia House in York Street in Sydney. It was an opportunity for businesses and people who were interested in investing in Slovenia to go to Slovenia House to speak to people there about the opportunities in Slovenia, to see some of the goods and services that might be of interest to them and also to sample some fine Slovenian food. Of course, none of that would have been possible without the activities of not just Helena Zorko, the chargé d'affaires here in Australia, but also the Slovenian honorary consul, Alfred Breznik, who for very many years has been very active in trying to interest Australians in trading opportunities with Slovenia and also in Slovenia as a tourist destination.

In the last few years I have noticed an increasing number of travel specials in the weekend supplements of our major newspapers, in the magazine Gourmet Traveller and in the Qantas in-flight magazine. All them describe the wonderful natural beauty of Slovenia, the fact that there is a beautiful coastline and that it is very close to Italy, Austria, Hungary and the beautiful coastline of Croatia. So it is an excellent destination for a holiday. It also has excellent skiing—I picked up in the weekend newspapers that it is being promoted as a fine European skiing destination because it is much better value for money than going to Switzerland, Austria or somewhere like that. All of these of course present fantastic opportunities for Australian businesses wanting to invest in Slovenia and for Australian tourists going overseas. It is an unusual and excellent destination for a holiday. During this consideration in detail, I want to draw the minister's attention to the 10th anniversary to ensure that we continue to consider our relationship with Slovenia in this light. (Time expired)