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Tuesday, 26 June 2001
Page: 28557


Mrs ELSON (3:16 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Would the minister inform the House of the significance for the bilateral relationship of the first visit to Australia by an Indonesian head of state in 27 years? In particular, what are the outcomes of the official talks with President Wahid and his delegation today?


Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Forde for her question and recognise the interest she has shown in President Wahid's visit and indeed in Australia's standing in the region and the world. It goes without saying that President Wahid's visit was indeed a historic visit. As the honourable member points out, this is the first visit by an Indonesian President to Australia since 1975 and the first to our national capital since 1972.

I am happy to tell the House that the government was very struck by the warmth and the success of the meetings that the Prime Minister and other ministers had with the Indonesian President and with our counterparts. We were able to discuss a number of issues which are of particular interest to us. One was our bilateral trade relationship, and I know the Minister for Trade himself had a good deal to say about how successful that has been in recent times. We were able to discuss investment issues and, interestingly, the fact that Indonesian students are now the largest group of foreign students studying here in Australia. There was excellent cooperation on the issue of dealing with people-smuggling.

We did have some discussions with President Wahid about the proposal for a west Pacific forum. It has been agreed that at the foreign minister level we will move towards a dialogue between neighbouring countries, being Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, East Timor, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Brunei. It is our view that this is a very good way of helping Australia, Indonesia and other countries in the region to work together to create an appropriate environment in our neighbourhood and to ensure that it is as stable and secure as we would like it to be.

There was also some discussion with our Indonesian counterparts about the issue of human rights abuses before and after the East Timor ballot in 1999. We expressed our view that we wanted those involved in those abuses to be brought to justice. Both the foreign minister and the President have made it clear that they are still committed to establishing ad hoc tribunals to deal with those involved in these abuses both before and after the ballot in 1999. We look forward to the ad hoc tribunals being established and the Indonesian government moving ahead with that process.

The Indonesian side also sought further assistance from Australia to help with dealing with the problem of refugees in west Timor. We have already provided substantial assistance to refugees in west Timor— somewhere in the vicinity of $6.8 million— but we did make it clear to the Indonesians that we were very happy to continue to support them in dealing with those refugees. There are still problems that have to be sorted out. We and other members of the international community would be willing to provide some assistance for those who want to be relocated in other parts of Indonesia, and also, naturally enough, for those who wish to be relocated back to East Timor, whence they came.

Overall, this visit was a great moment in Australian diplomacy. It has put the relationship with Indonesia on the terms that we want that relationship to be: a natural relationship between two partners, two friends, two neighbours, and also a relationship based on mutual respect. That is a very important principle. You often hear the Prime Minister and me talking about the need for mutual respect in our relationship with Indonesia. Both we and the Indonesians have been able to demonstrate that commitment to that principle very strongly over the last couple of days.