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Wednesday, 30 May 1984
Page: 2149

Senator BOLKUS —by leave-I present the official report of the visit of the Australian parliamentary delegation to Italy, Spain, Greece and Cyprus during October and November 1983, and I seek leave to make a statement in connection with the report.

Leave granted.

Senator BOLKUS —The report I have just tabled is the official report of the Australian parliamentary delegation, which in October and November 1983 visited the southern European and Mediterranean countries of Italy, Spain, Greece and Cyprus. Formal parliamentary exchanges between Italy, Greece and Cyprus had not taken place for at least 20 years and there had never been before the visit of this delegation a formal parliamentary exchange between Australia and Spain. Consequently, the visit provided the opportunity to establish or strengthen formally links with countries at a legislator to legislator basis.

The delegation saw as the main purpose of its official visit the enhancing of Australia's understanding of the political, economic, social and cultural environment in these countries. It also hoped to present Australia's viewpoints on matters of mutual interest and, further, to exchange views frankly on areas such as trade, tourism, foreign affairs, as well as the interests of those Australians who were born in those countries. It was hoped to strengthen existing links of friendship and to further goodwill and understanding between the four countries visited, their parliaments and Australia.

I believe that the visit was most successful in accomplishing its purpose. Delegations of this kind play an important role in strengthening and furthering links, as increased understanding flows from the frank exchange of views and personal contact. I believe that in this instance this eventuated. It was also heartening for the delegation to assist with plans for reciprocal visits to Australia at the elected representative level in each of the countries visited. As I said, the delegation found a willingness for a frank exchange of views on a number of areas, both of domestic and international interest, in all the countries we visited.

We found there was a deep commitment to democracy in the four countries we visited. In fact, it was interesting to watch the different stages of the political systems in each of the four countries. We found that Spain, Greece and Italy-countries which had recently elected socialist governments-were adapting and responding to the changes their political systems were undergoing. The new governments were young and energetic. In Spain, for instance, Government members were working in a parliamentary system with those who in recent years had been their gaolers. They were adapting quite maturely to the new system of government .

There were other areas of particular interest. One important one was the opening by the Committee of building projects in Italian towns which had been struck by a massive earthquake in 1980. These projects had been funded in part by people of Italian origin in the Australian community. In the four areas which the delegation visited the response of the Italian people to the donations and the buildings erected with the money from Australia was heartwarming. It should be noted also that there was an earthquake recently in Italy, but that was not in an area visited by the delegation. I am sure, however, that all honourable senators extend to the Italian people their sympathy in respect of the more recent earthquake.

Other areas of interest were varied. In Spain the issue of foreign affairs was raised, and the independence of Spain in the international arena. Questions were raised about our immigration program and about cultural exchange programs. There was also keen interest in the question of a social security agreement with Australia. In Italy we had the opportunity to meet on different levels with local government and central government. We met the local administrations of Florence and Venice, and we also met with the Italian Foreign Minister, Mr Andreotti. There also we found deep interest in the negotiations towards a social security agreement between Australia and Italy. In Greece we met with the Minister for the Interior, Mr Yennimatas, and were able to raise matters of interest to Australians of Greek origin. We were in Cyprus at a difficult time, a week after the declaration of independence by the Turkish part of the island. It was a time of deep political interest, and I am sure all members of the delegation who were there will have come back with a greater awareness of the Cyprus problem.

Some problems were experienced during the visit, and the delegation has made some comments and recommendations in the report in the hope that future delegations will benefit from our experience. These recommendations include many of a machinery kind, with more substantial recommendations relating to the standard of gifts the delegation presented to parliaments and officials. It has been mentioned in another place that the particular instance which caused embarrassment was in Spain, where the Parliament and the people of Spain overwhelmed the delegation with their hospitality and their keenness to show us the way the Spanish political system worked. We felt, however, that the gifts presented to the Spanish Presidents were unworthy of the Parliament and unrepresentative of Australia.

In closing, I wish to thank a number of people for their assistance to the delegation. One must pay tribute to the co-operation of delegation members, but I should also pay tribute to the work done by other people involved with the delegation. The Secretary of the delegation, Miss Cynthia Balogh, spent many hours not only organising the trip while we were overseas and beforehand but also in preparing the report up to the stage where she left the Australian Parliament to move to another department. I also thank the Australian missions in the four countries we visited. They all assisted us to the best of their abilities. In fact, the assistance we obtained from some officers of those missions was far in excess of that which we would normally expect to be within the bounds of normal duty. I commend this report to the Senate.