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Monday, 18 March 2013
Page: 2280


Dr STONE (Murray) (10:25): I wish to give a report on the parliamentary delegation to the Kingdom of Morocco and the People's Democratic Republic of Algeria. This parliamentary delegation, following the first ever visits to Morocco and Algeria by an Australian foreign minister, was highly successful. During his June 2012 visit, Foreign Minister Carr signed MOUs with both Morocco and Algeria committing to further regular policy consultations. Following this, the Australian delegation travelled to Morocco and Algeria from 7 to 14 November 2012 and met with senior government members, officials and representatives of their key institutions. We were warmly welcomed in the two countries—both renowned for their traditional and generous hospitality.

In Algeria, we were privileged to be present at the establishment of the first Algeria-Australia Parliamentary Friendship Group. Both Algeria and Morocco have embassies in Australia. The embassies have been in operation since 2004. Senior government representatives in both countries stressed the desirability of having embassies from Australia opened in their countries, and as soon as possible. Australia is represented in Morocco by a locally engaged Austrade officer who reports to the Austrade office in Dubai.

Bilateral relations between Australia and either country have been historically limited, and trading between Algeria and Morocco and Australia has also been of limited value and volume, with phosphate fertiliser being a key export from Morocco to Australia and crude petroleum being the main export from Algeria to Australia in 2010-2011.

The delegation was advised, however, that there are significant opportunities for the further development of trade in services and technology as Algeria and Morocco seek to develop their mineral resources. Several Australian companies in particular have been active in gold and tin mining, although not without experiencing some real challenges. Australia's mineral exploration and resource development was acknowledged and welcomed as having a real potential benefit to the two countries. Morocco and Algeria also both wished to further develop their agricultural productivity and acknowledged the experience and expertise in Australia in farming arid zones and in the use of water-conserving technologies.

We were able to gain insights into the current political and economic situation, in particular the outcomes of the Arab Spring and how that influenced protests in both countries in 2010-11. Both Algeria and Morocco have peacefully further democratised their countries in response to the protests from their citizenry at the time. In particular, both countries have sought to have their women further participate in their country's governments and economies. We were also able to have quite frank discussions about the issues concerning the Western Sahara as well as the bilateral relations between the two countries, with both Moroccan and Algerian officials. Since our visit, the situation in neighbouring Mali has obviously deteriorated.

The role of women in politics and society was of particular interest to our delegation, and we found that our interest was shared by those we had the privilege to meet with. Exploring the role of women in Morocco was, as I said, one of our key objectives. Mr Karim Ghellab, Speaker of the Moroccan House of Representatives, spoke with the delegation about the role of women in the new constitutional environment. Under the new constitution, 60 seats in the House of Representatives are reserved for women, who are elected from a separate national list. Women can be elected to parliament as part of this national list only once. Elected women must subsequently stand as regular candidates. The aim of this manoeuvre is, as Speaker Ghellab told us, so that the 'negative aspects of positive discrimination' will be removed over time. The development is clearly in its very early stages, and it is noted that only seven non-reserved seats were won by women out of a total of 395 seats in their new parliament. It is also unfortunate, as Speaker Ghellab told us, that in the current government there is just one female minister, which is fewer than in the previous 2007-11 government.

In relation to Algeria, one aspect of their May 2012 election was the relatively high number of women elected to the National Assembly. Of the 462 seats in the lower house, 146 are now occupied by women. That is 32 per cent of their seats—the highest in the Arab world and a greater proportion of women than in Australia's House of Representatives. In January 2012, Algeria adopted a new law requiring that 30 per cent of parliamentarians be female—a move endorsed by the UN.

In conclusion, there is a real sense of warmth and cooperation between Algeria and Australia and Morocco and Australia. I believe that we can further enhance our relationships, our trade and our exchanges through delegations like the one we were lucky to experience. (Time expired)