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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9049

Ms O'NEILL (Robertson) (10:44): by leave—I rise to speak also on the report of the parliamentary delegation to the European parliament and institutions and the bilateral visit to Israel which took place from 20 April to 4 May 2012. In this place, where sometimes conversations are very harsh and bipartisan cooperation is not always at the forefront, it is important to note that relationships do develop which enhance the work we do here in the parliament when we spend significant periods with our clients across the sometimes enormous party-political divide.

I pay particular tribute to the contribution to our national interests which arose from this delegation's visit to the EU—to Paris—to Palestine and to Israel. We were very ably led by the honourable Senator John Hogg with the assistance which the deputy leader of the delegation, the Hon. Ian Macdonald, very freely offered. From this chamber, Russell Broadbent and Graham Perrett attended with me, and, from the Senate, Senator Bridget McKenzie attended. The team did Australia proud—we were team Australia while we were away. The first place in which we gathered to undertake our work as a parliamentary delegation was Brussels, where the current ambassador to Belgium, Luxembourg, the European Union and NATO, Brendan Nelson, is doing an absolutely outstanding job of making sure that Australia's interests are represented at the very highest levels.

The point of these delegations as parliament-to-parliament conversations was always very much emphasised by Senator Hogg, who understands that the permanence of such relationships can sometimes transcend our relationships in this place. Building on the great work that has been done by those before us and continuing to represent Australia overseas is a vital part of the work that we do as a delegation. During our visit to the European parliament we had extremely high level talks with Mr Martin Shulz, the President of the European parliament, and Mr Klaus Welle, the Secretary General of the European parliament.

Such talks are vital for us at this point in time. Since 2008 the Australia-EU relationship has been guided by a partnership framework, but there have been changes to the Lisbon treaty which have created a new institutional structure within the EU. This has very much impacted on Australia's relationship with the EU and on how we intend to interact with the EU in future. In October 2010, Prime Minister Gillard proposed that Australia and the EU negotiate a treaty level framework, and this is now the underpinning of all the great work that we can do with the EU. I am pleased to say that I believe that we were able to advance our agenda in our time visiting the European parliament.

We followed our visit to the parliament very quickly with one of the most moving experiences of my life thus far—being at the dawn service in Polygon Wood on Flanders Fields. The music that was offered by three amazing servicewomen—one from the Air Force, one from the Army and one from the Navy—enhanced tremendously the dawn service's recognition of Australia's service men and women and the great loss of life so many years ago on the fields of Flanders in the cause of freedom. I feel extremely privileged to have been there and very pleased that the Australian government was represented at that occasion, because there are so many Australians who go there to acknowledge the sacrifices of our service men and women.

Our work in Paris has been spoken about by my colleague Graham Perrett, the member for Moreton. He also spoke about the second part of our trip, when we were in Palestine and Israel. I too was very touched by my visit to the Aida refugee camp in Palestine, but I take the time remaining to me to put on the record how moved we were by our experience of visiting Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum. It is a truly remarkable place which aptly records the horror of the Holocaust with an indication to us never to forget and always to look to the future for better ways of solving the conflicts which necessarily emerge from time to time between us as human beings and as nations and as people who have different ideologies. It is a reminder of the need to negotiate a safe space for all people to participate.

I take this opportunity to give my thanks to the Australian ambassadors and embassy staff serving in Belgium, in France, in Israel and in Palestine. We are ably served by these missions. They do us great credit.