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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 48


Senator FERGUSON (5:10 PM) —by leave—I present two delegation reports. I present a report on my official visit to Japan which took place from 28 July to 2 August 2008, and the report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to the 54th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association Conference, which took place from 4 to 10 August 2008 in Malaysia, with a bilateral visit to Thailand which took place from 10 to 15 August. I seek leave to move a motion in relation to the reports.

Leave granted.


Senator FERGUSON —I move:

That the Senate take note of the documents.

The first report I wish to speak to is the report of the parliamentary delegation which I led to the 54th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association annual conference in Malaysia this year and a bilateral visit which followed to Thailand in August this year. The delegation’s visits were very successful, and I would like to thank my fellow delegates: Mr Michael Danby MP, who was the deputy leader; Senator the Hon. Bill Heffernan, Mr Barry Haase MP and Mr Graham Perrett MP. I would also like to particularly thank my then senior adviser, Mr Gerard Martin, and the delegation secretary, Mr David Elder.

The delegation commenced with attendance at the 54th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference hosted by the Malaysian Parliament. The theme of the conference was ‘Expanding the role of parliament in global security: environment, development and security’. The conference plenaries and workshop sessions provided the opportunity for our delegates to contribute to the sessions and to learn from other delegates about issues within their countries and parliaments. The conference also provided us with the opportunity to engage with parliamentarians from other Commonwealth countries on a more informal basis. As the Australian federal regional representative of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, I also attended the executive committee meetings of the CPA prior to the conference starting.

While I think it is fair to say that the delegation found aspects of the conference and its format a little frustrating, overall the conference was very well organised, and the delegation extends its congratulations and thanks to the Malaysian parliament for the success of the conference. I would also like to particularly thank the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur, led by the High Commissioner, Ms Penny Williams, for briefing the delegation and assisting the delegation during its visit.

The delegation’s bilateral visit to Thailand was both very worthwhile and very informative. The delegation’s visit provided the opportunity to strengthen Australia’s already strong ties with Thailand. There is scope to improve the people-to-people ties and to further the trading relationship. The delegation explored both these areas during its visit. The visit, in particular, strengthened relationships at the parliamentary level, and it is hoped that this foundation can be built on in the future.

Thailand continues to undergo considerable political turmoil as it struggles to ensure that democracy achieves a firm foundation in Thai political culture. Of course, since we made that visit to Thailand, many events have taken place in Thailand, including a change of Prime Minister and members of the ruling government. The delegation was able to gain some insight into the difficulties the Thais are experiencing but was also able to appreciate the strong desire on the part of many Thais to make democracy work effectively.

The delegation also was able to be briefed on a number of defence, law enforcement and immigration issues that are of mutual concern to Australia and Thailand. Thailand, because of its geographical location, is a hub for a range of illegal activities within the region. Australia has worked closely with Thai authorities on these matters, including on training and capacity building, sharing of information and data, and cooperation on extradition.

In the final stages of the delegation’s visit we had the opportunity to visit a number of the key sites on the Burma-Thailand railway, on which a large number of prisoners of war, including thousands of Australians, worked during World War II. The delegation visited such famous sites as the bridge over the River Kwai and Hellfire Pass and was able to honour those who died in the construction and maintenance of the railway. The visits were very moving experiences for us and we gained at least some appreciation of the suffering and sacrifice of so many prisoners of war.

While I am on the subject of Hellfire Pass, I pay particular tribute to Mr Bill Slape, the work that he does at Hellfire Pass—there have been considerable improvements by way of the information centre there—and the enthusiasm with which he runs the facility and memorial on behalf of Australia and those who suffered there. I think he has been in charge for seven or eight years and I certainly wish him well in the future, because his contribution is enormous. His knowledge of the people and of the history of the place is probably unsurpassed, and the information he provides to all visitors to Hellfire Pass, particularly Australians, is to be admired. I believe that Bill Slape is doing an outstanding job and I certainly wish him well in the future as, I hope, he continues in that role.

I would like to thank the Thai parliament for hosting the delegation, and in particular the Speaker of the House of Representatives, His Excellency Mr Chai Chidchob, and the President of the Senate, Mr Prasobsuk Boondech. I also thank the staff of the Australian embassy in Bangkok, led by Ambassador Paul Grigson, for their excellent assistance during our visit. They gave us wonderful briefings on our arrival. It was a Sunday afternoon and nearly all of the embassy’s staff made themselves available to brief us as a delegation. The contribution that they made to our visit certainly cannot be underestimated.

In speaking on the second report I tabled, a report on my visit to Japan just prior to the CPA conference in Malaysia, can I say that the Australia-Japan partnership is one of the strongest in the Asia-Pacific region and has been a longstanding one. I was delighted to be so well received by the leaders in Japan. There had not been a parliamentary visit since the delegation in early 2006 led by the former Speaker, the Hon. David Hawker. I was able to meet and have lunch with a delegation of senior Japanese Diet members, led by the Chair of the Diet Affairs Committee, and I sought to undertake a range of meetings with senior Japanese parliamentarians, business people and officials during the four days that I was there. These included an official lunch with His Excellency Mr Satsuki Eda, President of the House of Councillors, and Mr Yohei Kano, Speaker of the House of Representatives and Chairman of the Japan-Australia Diet Members League. On these visits I was accompanied by Mr Murray McLean, the ambassador.

Early on the morning I arrived I had a chance to visit the Tokyo fish market, which is well known to many visitors to Japan. It meant a rather early start, at about 4.30 on the morning, but it was well worth it. It was a most important part of the visit.

I also had the opportunity to travel to Toyota City, near Nagoya, and view the Toyota assembly plant, including the assembly line for the Camry hybrid vehicle. I met with Mr Watanabe, the President of the Toyota Motor Corporation. The office manager and assistant manager of the Australia group provided a briefing on the plant and the various Toyota vehicles exported to Australia. Later that day I travelled to Kyoto—I travelled by train all the time I was there, which was a very effective way of getting around Japan—to meet with the Vice-Governor of Kyoto Prefecture, and I gained some useful insights from him.

The following Friday I visited Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima and met the mayor of Hiroshima, who is an internationally recognised peace campaigner. I was privileged to lay a wreath, on behalf of the Australian parliament, at the cenotaph in Peace Memorial Park. I also met with the Director of the Atomic Bomb Museum and viewed the museum, and I inspected the Children’s Peace Monument and the A-Bomb Dome.

It was a very worthwhile visit to Japan, one that I certainly will remember for a long time, not only for the hospitality I was shown but also for the information I was able to glean and share with the people I contacted while I was there. I commend the two reports to the Senate.

Question agreed to.