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Monday, 14 September 2009
Page: 9490

Ms OWENS (8:56 PM) —I present the report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to the Philippines, Cambodia and Malaysia from 19 April to 1 May 2009. The parliamentary delegation to Malaysia, the Philippines and Cambodia in April was the first visit of its type by members of the Australian parliament. Starting this year, the Australian parliament’s outgoing delegations program includes a visit each year to three ASEAN countries that have democratically elected parliaments. It is right that we increase our focus on an extremely important region for Australia. Not only do Australia and its citizens have strong relationships with many ASEAN members but as a group ASEAN and New Zealand constitute Australia’s largest trading partner, valued at $103 billion in 2007-08, accounting for 21 per cent of Australia’s total trade. Australia’s two-way trade with ASEAN has grown by an average of 10 per cent per year.

It was an opportune time to begin this program of visits, particularly given that a free trade agreement between Australia, New Zealand and ASEAN was signed in February this year. The aims of the annual parliamentary delegation visit to ASEAN countries are to gain a better understanding of developments in ASEAN countries and to examine opportunities to broaden links with those countries. The delegation in this case comprised me, Mr Rob Oakeshott MP and Senator Glenn Sterle. The full objectives of the delegation are outlined in the report but focus on economic development and opportunities to strengthen trade and investment links; environment, including policies and initiatives to meet the challenges of climate change; security, including defence cooperation and responses to the threat of terrorism; cooperation within the multilateral system; and social development, including community health and education.

The report tabled tonight covers each of the three countries separately against each of these focus areas. Cambodia, Malaysia and the Philippines are three remarkably different countries with substantial differences in economic and developmental circumstances, each sharing a unique history with Australia, including the military history with Malaysia, a substantial and longstanding aid relationship with Cambodia, including the provision of safe haven to many Cambodian students who later became Australians, and the many Filipino students and workers who spent time here and the many who built their homes here.

There are considerable benefits to be enjoyed by both sides from continued growth in the relationships and in developing the untapped potential in areas including education, agriculture, tourism, mining and financial services. I know I speak for the other members of the delegation when I stress the importance of delegations such as this one, of getting to know our colleagues in the parliaments of our closest neighbours, of openly sharing experiences and knowledge, of improving both parliament’s corporate memories of our relationships and the history that binds our countries and our citizens together, of comprehending the potential for greater economic and cultural ties, of exploring opportunities for growth in two-way trade and investment and understanding the barriers to that growth, of cooperating on security, and of truly comprehending Australia’s geographic, cultural and economic place in its own region and the importance of this vibrant region to Australia and the world.

The program was full and varied and included meetings with aid agencies and visits to aid programs that provided water and education to some of the poorest people in the region, a meeting of Australian citizens who had returned to Cambodia to help rebuild, a meeting with education providers and the many Filipinos who remembered fondly their student days in Australia, frank discussions with members of all parliaments, discussions about multiculturalism, the sharing of concerns about maritime security and terrorism in the region, and meeting Australian businesses and hearing of their experiences. We cannot stress enough the importance of the new delegation program, which over time will help familiarise Australian parliamentarians and their ASEAN colleagues with the extraordinary opportunities encompassed in the relationships that we build at government, personal and business levels.

I would like to thank the many people who helped put the program together and hosted us—and exhausted us, for that matter—for nine full days of delegation visits and travel at either end. Thanks to the Australian Embassy in the Philippines, including Ambassador Rod Smith and his staff; the Australian High Commission in Malaysia, including High Commissioner Penny Williams and her staff; the Australian Embassy in Cambodia, including Ambassador Margaret Adamson, who was brave enough when faced with flooding in Phnom Penh to take off her shoes with me and wade through thigh-high water to get back to the embassy; all of those who met with the delegation in each country, including presiding officers, members of parlament, ministers, officials and representatives of NGOs and other organisations; staff of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra and staff of the Parliamentary Relations Office, and especially Natalie Cooke, the delegation secretary, who undertook her first delegation with us.

Debate adjourned.