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Monday, 26 October 2009
Page: 7064

Senator KROGER (6:16 PM) —by leave—I present the report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to Vietnam and to the 17th annual meeting of the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum held in Laos, which took place from 5 to 15 January 2009. I seek leave to move a motion to take note of the document.

Leave granted.

Senator KROGER —I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I am pleased to present the report of the delegation’s visit to Vietnam and its participation in the annual meeting of the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum in Vientiane. The Speaker led the delegation, which also included the member for Cowan and my Senate colleagues Senators Collins and Moore. I pay tribute to the delegation secretary, Ms Catherine Cornish, for sharing her expertise in the APPF process, her attention to detail and her masterful ability to ensure that the visit went smoothly with characteristic Australian humour. Likewise we were fortunate to have the Clerk of the House, Mr Ian Harris AO, join us. His enormous wealth of knowledge and appreciation of procedure held us in good stead.

As delegations have previously visited Vietnam on a number of occasions, the visit provided an opportunity to renew parliamentary contacts with the National Assembly, to gain an understanding of the impact of economic reform and advances that have taken place in the last 20 years, to observe the outcomes of Australia’s development cooperation program at first hand and also to consider prospects for further trade and investment by Australia. Vietnam is a kaleidoscope of geographic features, from the limestone islands of Ha Long Bay and the plains of the Mekong River to the modern metropolis of Ho Chi Minh City and the Old Quarter of Hanoi. In a very short time we could only cover some of this, but we really focussed on three areas: Ho Chi Minh City, where our meetings and visits were designed to give us a perspective on the impact of economic reform, trade and development cooperation; Hanoi, where the National Assembly was the focus; and Ha Long City and Ha Long Bay, where our attention was on environmental issues and the impact of economic reform.

The discussions that we had were interesting and constructive. We were pleased to meet a number of people, in particular the Vietnamese Prime Minister and Chairman Trong, President of the National Assembly. Of particular note were the visits to organisations that were the product of Australian investment and support. One of the visits we made that was a highlight to me was to the RMIT International University campus in Ho Chi Minh City, which reached 5,000 student enrolments last year. It is a most impressive campus that provides sought after tertiary courses for the locals whilst offering exchange opportunities and professional development for Australian students and academic staff.

We visited Phu My Bridge, a Bilfinger Berger and Baulderstone Hornibrook project, which was close to completion. It is, I have to say, an engineering masterpiece, and it is one that is managed by Australians. Equally impressive, although vastly different in nature, was the Protec helmet factory, which is largely supported by AusAID. Programs like this seek to make motorcyclists safer by producing low-cost helmets. The challenge will be to mandate the same protection to all the pillion passengers, who are not yet obliged to wear helmets. The number of people and size of goods carried on the back of bikes was a sight to behold and, may I also say, defied gravity.

Two other visits we made in Ho Chi Minh City were very memorable. The first was to the centre of education and vocational training for homeless and orphan children and the second was to the school for the blind in Ho Chi Minh City. In each place we saw the impact of support from Australia, whether that was a relatively small donation under the Direct Aid Program to the homeless and orphan children, or funding support that Loreto Vietnam-Australia provided for infrastructure to the school for the blind. I think what mattered to the people and children who received that support from Australians—and this was certainly indicated to us when we spoke to many there—was the thought that went into the determination and the direction of this support and aid, the careful assessment of needs and priorities that had been undertaken and perhaps, more importantly, the goodwill that it demonstrated.

Following the visit to Vietnam we travelled to Vientiane for the annual meeting of the APPF. These meetings have taken place in cities around the region each January for the last 16 years. Our parliament participates in the APPF for two major reasons: the countries that belong to the APPF are important to our regional, strategic and economic interests; and because we support the objectives of APPF meetings. The plenary sessions at the meeting were broken into three broad subject areas: economic and trade matters; political and security issues; and interparliamentary cooperation in the region. Our delegation proposed and spoke to a number of resolutions. The topic I chose to address was cooperation on natural disaster management—an issue of particular relevance in our region and one that we actually saw the effect of more recently with the tsunami and the effect it had on Samoa. Part of my speech was directed towards encouraging cooperation to improve preparedness for natural disasters, to provide relief and to assist in recovery. We followed up our speeches with negotiations on the final resolutions on the various topics. Outside the plenary we participated in bilateral meetings with other delegations, including those from China, the Russian Federation and Mexico.

I express our thanks to the Australian embassy representatives in Vietnam: the Ambassador, His Excellency Mr Allaster Cox, the Consul-General in Ho Chi Minh City, Mr Graeme Swift, and Mr Michael Hoy, who accompanied us throughout our time in Vietnam. Michael contributed greatly to the preparation and the implementation of the delegation’s program. He was unfailingly courteous and most skilful in keeping us informed to the max and organised.

In Laos we were assisted by Her Excellency Dr Michele Forster and her colleagues—in particular, Ms Emily Russell. The post in Vientiane is not a big one and so the preparations that were made by them to assist our work with the APPF secretariat, local officials and expatriates were very much appreciated. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra also assisted the delegation by briefing us and providing comprehensive briefing materials and draft resolutions. The Parliamentary Library also provided briefing material and a draft resolution, and the Parliamentary Relations Office gave administrative support.

Each member of our delegation participated fully in the various meetings in Vietnam and at the APPF meeting in Vientiane. Throughout the visits we sought to represent the parliament effectively through the resolutions we advocated, our speeches and our meetings. For my own part I found the visits rewarding in the opportunities they presented to meet local people, including members of parliament, to hear their perspectives on the major issues they confront and to see firsthand progress that is taking place both in Vietnam and Laos. The cohesion and goodwill of the delegation was also rewarding. For that I thank the Speaker, as leader, the member for Cowan, Mr Simpkins, and Senators Moore and Collins.

Question agreed to.