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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 11979

Mrs MARKUS (9:25 PM) —It is with great pleasure that I rise tonight to speak on the report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste and to concur with my colleague the member for Wills. We indeed have a close relationship and close ties with both Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste. It is important, particularly in view of Timor-Leste’s recent independence, that we continue to strengthen those tries and support that strengthening democracy. It is also important that we continue to contribute towards not just the development of Timor-Leste but also the provision of security assistance. Both democracies, while different and unique for various reasons, are developing, and it is important that the parliamentary ties between their parliaments and ours continue to be built.

The aims of the delegation, I would like to say, were reached. We aimed to strengthen those parliamentary ties. Meetings not just with parliament but also with government departments, with many businesses and with non-government sectors gave both PNG and Timor-Leste—and also the Australian delegation—an opportunity to understand the context in which we work. It enhanced our understanding of the several cultures. Papua New Guinea, for example, has 854 different languages and as many different cultural groups. Timor-Leste, while more homogeneous, certainly has a sense of unity and is very positive, as the member for Wills has noted, and optimistic about their future.

I turn to other aspects of the delegation’s work. For example, in Papua New Guinea, there were visits to several AusAID funded programs. We also visited organisations, departments and non-government sectors that were dealing with law enforcement, education, health, HIV and AIDS issues. Some of those organisations included the Alotau Police Station, the Hohola Youth Development Centre, Hagita Secondary School, Alotau Hospital and the PNG StopAIDS program. Each represented very well the impact of AusAID. Alotau Hospital, for example, was very impressive. AusAID funds have been able to provide a well-fitted-out maternity ward, and this saves not just women’s lives but also children’s. Mortality is quite high in PNG, particularly for mothers who are giving birth.

The delegation also noted the advancement made by Timor-Leste since independence and, as noted earlier, its optimism. AusAID has been involved in improving several things in Timor-Leste, including education, employment, health, food security, infrastructure and agriculture. It was noted by anybody we met that our assistance was most welcome. Both these nations are important not just to Australia but also to our region.

Another important focus of our visit was on Australia’s war history, and I would particularly like to thank the officers of the missions in both PNG and Timor-Leste for their assistance. I will just focus momentarily on the war history of both nations. Australia has been heavily involved in both nations with regard to this. For example, Australia’s military history with PNG is extensive. Nearly 6,000 Australians were expected to visit not only the historic Kokoda Track in 2008 but also many other places throughout Papua New Guinea. The same applies to Timor-Leste, with Australian involvement both during the Second World War and more recently, and there are a number of memorials which we were able to visit.

I would like to thank the delegation leader, Kelvin Thomson, and Senator Michaelia Cash and Mr Brett Raguse. We worked very much as a team, and it was very informative. We have invited delegations from both countries to come to Australia, and we are looking forward to that. (Time expired)