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Monday, 6 June 1994
Page: 1386

Mr ROBERT BROWN (12.47 p.m.) —I present the report of the Australian Parliamentary Delegation to Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia and Morocco from 9 November to 3 December 1993. The delegation to both the Middle East and the Maghreb occurred at a very critical time in the conduct of the peace process. More recently, we have seen those agreements, which were of enormous historical significance, come to fruition: on Friday, 13 May, the last Israeli soldiers withdrew from Jericho; and on Wednesday, 18 May, the last Israeli soldiers withdrew from Gaza after 27 years of occupation which followed from the 1967 war.

  It was a great privilege for the members of the delegation to represent the parliament at such a critical time. The issues that were addressed, the people we met, the places visited and the institutions observed were of enormous value to the delegation and, as a result, of enormous value to the parliament. I commend the report to all honourable members; in fact, I commend it to those people in the wider community who have any interest at all in the Middle East and the Mahgreb.

  I offer a special thanks to the host governments and all of those outstanding people who represented them during our visits. Their hospitality was absolute.

  I want to pay special tribute to the members of the delegation: the deputy leader of the delegation, the honourable member for Ryan (Mr Moore), Senator Gerry Jones, Senator Baden Teague, the honourable member for Banks (Mr Melham), the honourable member for Maranoa (Mr Bruce Scott), and Mr Peter Stephens, the secretary, who has been kind enough to grace us with his presence in the advisers seat this morning. I thank Peter very much for the way in which he undertook the initial preparation and the way he facilitated and assisted all of the delegates and their spouses during that delegation. Had it not been for his professional competence and commitment, it could not have been as successful as it was. His follow-up was carried out in the same exemplary manner.

  The delegation was particularly pleased, as I have also indicated, to have as a member Daryl Melham, who is the son of Lebanese parents. It was of great value not only because of his high standing within the Australian parliament but also because of his high standing in Lebanon. It provided a personal dimension to that deputation which could not possibly have occurred otherwise. Daryl was able to represent the Australian parliament at a conference in Lebanon during the visit of members of parliament of Lebanese descent to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the independence of Lebanon. As we were sure he would, and as was subsequently confirmed, he carried out that responsibility with great dignity.

  I also want to thank you, Mr Speaker, and the former President of the Senate, Senator Kerry Sibraa, for the personal commitment which you both brought to this delegation. I was very conscious, as you know, of your intercession during the delegation's visit to ensure that the purposes of this parliament were fulfilled by it. I thank you and, of course, the former President of the Senate.

  Among other things, the delegation visited Morocco. This was the first time a delegation from this parliament had visited Morocco and it was the first delegation of any kind to visit Morocco after the introduction of democratic elections, so that was particularly important. One particularly impressive element of the visit and the people we met and the discussions we had was the almost 1 1/2 hours we spent with Yasser Arafat, the Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, and a person I had identified, as would others, as being the personal symbol of the aspirations of the Palestinian people.

  I commend the report. It is a report of substance and importance. I congratulate all those members of the delegation who contributed so magnificently.