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Thursday, 20 September 2001
Page: 31135


Mr HARDGRAVE (2:11 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Will the minister update the House on Australia's important bilateral relationship with its close neighbour, Indonesia? What steps has the Australian government taken to build an even stronger relationship with the new Indonesian government?


Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for Moreton for asking me a question about relations with Indonesia. It is 92 days since the shadow spokesman has asked me any question at all, let alone a question about Indonesia. We are honoured to have here on the floor of the House of Representatives the Chairman of the Indonesian People's Consultative Assembly, my friend Dr Amien Rais. He is enormously welcome here. He is a leading figure in Indonesia, he has been a great champion of democracy in that country, and he holds one of the leading positions in its democratic institutions. Indonesia has been through some political upheaval in recent times. Dr Rais has been one of many who have ensured that the transition of power has worked smoothly and in a constructive and democratic way. Dr Rais, Mr Speaker, as you know, is leading a parliamentary delegation here in Australia, and the delegation are sitting in the gallery. They too are enormously welcome.

Everyone in this House knows that, as a result of the events in East Timor in 1999, our bilateral relationship with Indonesia went through a period of considerable strain. There is no point in ignoring or pretending that that was not the case; it was. But it is also true that our two governments recognise the great importance of each other to the future of the region and that as neighbours we should have a constructive and useful relationship built on the principles of mutual benefit and mutual respect. The nature of the relationship in recent times shows we have been able to build out of the troubled period following the events of 1999. The House will be impressed to know that we have about 18,000 Indonesian students here in Australia, and those students are very welcome in our country. Our bilateral trade in goods and services with Indonesia grew by 25 per cent in the last financial year to the largest value of trade between our two countries in history. Never has trade between Australia and Indonesia been as great as it is today, despite the difficult regional and international economic environment that we are operating in.

The Prime Minister's visit to Indonesia recently, when he was the first foreign leader to meet President Megawati and her cabinet in Jakarta, was, as the House knows, a most successful visit. The subsequent visit by the Minister for Defence, the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and me on 6 and 7 September was an opportunity to take the relationship further forward. There has been some focus in the media on the discussions we had about people trafficking, and they were very useful discussions. I think that that aspect of the relationship is beginning to grow quite well now. But it is also worth reminding the House that that was not the sole purpose of that visit. We also had most useful discussions with the leading economic ministers. While we were there, we met Dr Rais and other leaders in Indonesia so that, on both sides of the sea, we could understand the breadth of the relationship. This is not a relationship which is about just one or two issues; it is about a whole range of issues.

In our view, it is also very important that Australia and Indonesia cooperate not just bilaterally but on multilateral issues as well. Given the tumultuous events internationally of the last 12 or so days, it is very heartening that Australia and Indonesia are amongst the countries which have very strongly condemned those terrorist attacks on the United States. I know that our countries will work together in the years ahead, not only to build trade links, people-to-people links and political links, but also to counter some of the new and very dangerous aspects of the international environment, terrorism and transboundary movements of one kind or another, be they drugs or illegal people trafficking. Those sorts of issues are going to be increasingly important, and I know that our relationship will flourish in addressing those problems.


Mr Beazley —With your indulgence, Mr Speaker, I support the friendly remarks made by the Minister for Foreign Affairs in making Chairman Dr Rais very welcome here. You are very much welcomed from this side of the House as well, Dr Rais.