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Wednesday, 2 December 2015
Page: 9698


Senator BACK (Western Australia) (17:15): by leave—I present the report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to the republic of Indonesia, which took place from 27 September to 1 October 2015. I seek leave to make a statement.

Leave granted.

Senator BACK: Four participants, with the secretary of the delegation, Ms Sophie Dunstone, visited Indonesia. Along with me were Senator Anne Urquhart, from this place; and Mr Ewen Jones, the member for Herbert, and Mr Stephen Jones, the member for Throsby, from the other place. There were those who thought they were identical twins! I had to inform our hosts that they were not. I want to pass on my thanks and those of the delegation to the honourable Australian Ambassador to Indonesia, Mr Paul Grigson; the first secretary, Mr Murray O'Hanlon; the second secretary, Ms Annelise Young; and Mr Monty Pounder, who so ably looked after the group in the visits we made to Jakarta and to Balikpapan, in Indonesia.

Madam Acting Deputy President, you know the importance of the relationship with Indonesia. It is our largest, nearest neighbour, second only to Papua New Guinea in proximity. It has a population of some 250 million people. It is a country with which Australia has the opportunity to do much more business. Our relationship over the last few years has been somewhat strained, but I am delighted to be able to confirm and report that the meeting of Prime Minister Turnbull with President Widodo, only recently, has certainly turned the quality and the direction of that relationship around.

I will turn briefly to trade. In 2013, our two-way trade with Indonesia was worth some $15 billion, of which $11½ billion was in goods and $3.5 billion in services. But of course there is enormous capacity to increase that trade relationship, and I look forward to that happening in the future. In the goods areas there are wheat, other agricultural products, sugar and molasses, export of live animals—live cattle export to Indonesia is now back on track as a very significant trade area—crude petroleum and cotton. In the services area the importance of education cannot be overemphasised. We will see more in the future as we see more Indonesian students studying in Australia. Under the New Colombo Plan, I am pleased to report to the chamber, the single largest country to which Australian New Colombo Plan students wish to go is Indonesia.

The group had the opportunity in the education space to visit a madrasah, a school, where Australia is providing enormous support. Australian financial support under our aid program has now moved from physical construction and upgrading of buildings to improving the standards, governance and educational standards of the principals, the school administrators and the schoolteachers. In fact, the pilot program coordinated by Australia is so successful that the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture are now rolling out that same program throughout their schools in Indonesia.

In Balikpapan, we had the opportunity to meet with a number of educators to learn from them what more we can do. Many of them, in fact, had had secondary and/or tertiary education here in Australia, so they knew our country well. Again, they were appreciative of the relationship between our two countries.

In Balikpapan, the group visited Thiess Bros, obviously a Queensland originated company, and Coates Hire. In both instances there were significant numbers—I think Coates Hire, out of 160 staff, only had three expats. In the case of Thiess, they had a very, very active program undertaken to Australian certification levels in a range of trade skills areas—welding, diesel mechanics et cetera. We were keen to know what the equivalent standards were, and they informed us that they were sending many of those who had completed their apprenticeships to work in Brisbane, where they performed very, very well and indeed were so much in demand that there were requests for them to stay.

Madame Acting Deputy President Reynolds, you would recall from your military experience that Balikpapan was the scene of one of the last battles of the Australian infantry in July 1945, when our troops were able to maintain a beachhead and then overcome the Japanese on that particular location. The group had the privilege and the pleasure of visiting what is now Chevron's headquarters on Balikpapan, where we laid wreaths and reflected on the contribution made by our Australian troops. That contribution was not lost when we met local government officials in that particular city.

Indonesia remains a strong neighbour, a very important trading post, and I was delighted that the delegation was able to have the impact it did.