DELEGATION REPORTS;Australian Parliamentary Delegation to the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum – 28 Feb 2012

By leave—I present the report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to the 20th annual meeting of the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum held in Tokyo, from 8 to 12 January 2012. I seek leave to move a motion to take note of the document.

Leave granted.

 Senator BILYK: I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

 Senator BILYK: For the information of senators, it gives me great pleasure to present the report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to the 20th annual meeting of the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum, commonly known as the APPF, which was held in Tokyo from 8 to 12 January 2012. The other participating members of the Australian delegation were the delegation leader and member for Page, Ms Janelle Saffin, the deputy leader of the delegation and member for Mallee, Mr John Forrest, and Senator Chris Back from Western Australia.

The APPF was established at its first annual meeting in Tokyo in January 1993. In 1991, prior to the establishment of APPF, Canberra was host to one of two preparatory meetings. Australia in general has a long history of involvement with the APPF. The declaration adopted at the first annual meeting, known as the Tokyo declaration, outlined the objectives and organisational aspects of the APPF. It provided for the APPF to be open to all national parliamen­tarians in the Asia Pacific region, particularly from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group members and members of the South Pacific Forum, who have an active interest in promoting dialogue among parliamentarians in the region and who accept the objectives and principles of the APPF.

Those objectives are to seek to provide opportunities for national parliamentarians of sovereign states of the Asia-Pacific region to identify and discuss matters of common concern and interest and to highlight them in a global context; to deepen their understand­ing of the policy concerns, interests and experiences of the countries and of the region; to examine the critical political, social and cultural developments resulting from economic growth and integration; to encourage and promote regional cooperation at all levels on matters of common concern to the region; and to play the roles of national parliamentarians in furthering in their respective countries a sense of regional cohesion, understanding and cooperation.

The APPF is very relevant to Australia given the importance to our nation of the issues addressed at the forum and the significance of the participating countries to our economic and strategic interests. The 20th annual meeting was highly successful with 326 delegates attending from 20 member countries and one observer country. The Australian delegation proposed six resolutions on the subjects of promoting cultural, education and personal exchanges in the Asia-Pacific region; strengthening peace and security in the region; the global economic situation; food security; energy security; and cooperation in disaster risk reduction and disaster preparedness. Of course, the last matter had particular significance for the host country, Japan, given the meeting was held against the backdrop of the recent earthquake and tsunami, which devastated much of Japan less than two years ago. The final joint communique of the meeting included 13 resolutions, six of which were on the subjects of the resolutions proposed by Australia. It is important to note here that all the resolutions must be by consensus, which encourages negotiation and discussion to reach resolutions.

The Australian delegation leader, Ms Saffin, addressed the meeting on strength­ening peace and security in the region. She referred to some of Australia’s work in the ASEAN Regional Forum and to the recently established ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting-Plus. Ms Saffin represented the delegation in two working groups: strength­ening peace and security in the region and the new Tokyo declaration. Mr Forrest spoke on disaster risk reduction and disaster preparedness. He referred to the number and scale of natural disasters and their increasing impact in recent years, and referred to work being done by Australia to reduce or mitigate the impact of natural disasters. Mr Forrest also represented the delegation at the working group on disaster management and nuclear safety. Senator Back addressed the plenary on food security about the critical role that Australia has to play in increasing food production to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of reducing hunger by half. I know Senator Back will be speaking after me, so I am sure he will expand on that. I addressed the plenary on promoting cultural, educational and personal exchanges, providing an overview of Australia’s work in the Asia-Pacific region in this area. I also participated in the working group based around cultural education and personal exchanges. Along with Mr Forrest, I also represented the delegation at the meetings of the drafting committee including discussions on behalf of the Australian delegation with Indonesian delegates in relation to the proposed resolution on the Middle East peace process.

I wish here to reiterate a point that I made in my plenary address, that the APPF meetings and other parliamentary forums provide the opportunity for valuable exchanges among national parliamentarians which can help to foster regional and international dialogue and cooperation. I would like to thank the Prime Minister of Japan, His Excellency Mr Yoshihiko Noda, and the Chief Cabinet Secretary, Mr Osamu Fujimara, for meeting with the delegates and for the efficiency, warmth and hospitality which all delegates received. I would like to thank the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Parliamentary Library for their wonderful assistance with comprehensive briefing materials. I would also like to thank for their advice and support the International Community Relations Office and the Ambassador to Japan, His Excellency Mr Bruce Miller, and the wonderful staff at the embassy there. Thanks also go to the liaison officer from the Japanese parliament, Ms Kaori Tanaka.

A special thanks must go to the House of Representatives Serjeant-at-Arms, Ms Robyn McClelland, who provided invaluable support while accompanying the delegation as the delegation secretary. She put in many hours of work to make sure that all went smoothly and efficiently for us before, during and since the forum. Finally, I would really like to thank my fellow delegates, Ms Page, Mr Forrest and Senator Back for their participation.

I believe that all delegates at the forum now have a greater knowledge of Japan and the importance and strength of the bilateral relationship. I think we all know each other better. It was a very cooperative approach by all members in making sure that Australia was represented so well. So despite the cut and thrust of parliament, a lot of work goes on, often unseen by the public, where there is very effective cooperation across party lines, and parliamentary delegations such as this one are a great example of that. I believe the Australian delegation did a very good job of representing the Australian parliament to the APPF and it was an honour and privilege to participate. I commend the report to the Senate. I know that Senator Back wants to speak so I will leave him some time.