Wednesday, 24 June 2009
Australian Parliamentary Delegation to the 120th Assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and Bilateral Visit to Switzerland
by leave—I rise to endorse the remarks you have made, Mr Speaker, with regard to the delegation that went to the IPU and to Switzerland, and I would like to make some remarks myself. Firstly, 123 countries took part in the work of the IPU assembly in Ethiopia, of which there were 1,193 delegates, 27.6 per cent of whom were women. Although during the five days of the assembly there were many formal and informal meetings, the main work of the IPU is dealing with the standing committees of the IPU, the first of which deals with matters relating to peace and international security, which you yourself mentioned, Mr Speaker; the second deals with sustainable development, finance and trade; and the third standing committee, whose terms of reference relate to democracy and human rights, is the one in which I took part very specifically. We had before us in that committee the issue of freedom of expression and the right to information.
The committee held three sittings, which were chaired by Mr Canepa from Uruguay. The committee dealt with a report and a preliminary draft resolution drawn up by corapporteurs from India and the United Kingdom, along with amendments to the draft resolution from 13 delegations. I participated in the original debate and then had the honour of being appointed by the Asia-Pacific geopolitical group to be its representative on the drafting committee along with delegates from Bahrain, Canada, Chile, Congo, Germany, Iraq, Mali, Mexico, Switzerland and Zimbabwe. The committee was chaired by Mr Winkler, a delegate from Germany. At that meeting I was elected rapporteur.
The committee considered the draft in detail, incorporated some of the amendments which had been put forward and managed to accommodate, in whole or in part, amendments that came from 10 of those 13 delegations. The committee, having considered the draft resolution, presented it to the general committee for adoption, which was done unanimously. I was then asked to be rapporteur for the report on the resolution to the assembly. In that assembly there was one reservation from Australia relating to freedom of information, and that was that it should apply to governments and not to the private sector. Again, that was accepted unanimously by the assembly.
You may remember that in this chamber I spoke on the Evidence Amendment (Journalists’ Privilege) Bill 2009 on 14 May this year and referred quite extensively to the final IPU resolution, to argue the proposition that legislation should be improved to ensure that journalists did not have to disclose their sources, and explained how important it was that in a country such as ours, which was in the first league of freedom of information in encouraging other countries which had virtually no such provisions, we ought to be quite fulsome in protecting journalists’ rights in that way.
Mr Speaker, you also mentioned the important visit we made to Dr Catherine Hamlin and her fistula hospital. It was moving to be in the presence of such a woman. She has given 50 years of service to restoring women to the status of being acceptable human beings in the community. We walked into that hospital and saw rows and rows of young women whose lives had been destroyed by, quite frankly, lack of prenatal care. Their bodies had been subjected to unacceptable results following very difficult births and they were in a position where they were not accepted by any of their communities and lived as hermits. Some of them lay dormant for years, with their legs and muscles wasting away, because they thought that if they stayed still the problem of the leakage would go away. Her compassion, her work and the joy that she could bring to the lives of those women was extraordinary. We saw a young baby that one mother brought in. The woman had had seven miscarriages, finally having the fistula problem. Dr Hamlin brought her back, she had a caesarean and she gave birth to a live baby, which was Dr Hamlin’s promise to her. It was an extraordinarily moving event. I was very, very proud to be an Australian and to see her work.
A lot of us took rugs that were made by people from the St George and Sutherland Shire in New South Wales and assembled by the Hon. Danna Vale, the member for Hughes. We all carried those rugs and gave them because the women, when they first come to the hospital, wear those rugs. Because of the shame, the rugs would be over their faces, but after their operations they put them around their shoulders and they become a source of warmth. Thank you to Danna.
From there we went on to Switzerland. We had very important meetings in Switzerland, particularly with Credit Suisse and the department of finance. Mr Rohner from Credit Suisse and members that he had with him were very fulsome in their discussions about what had happened with regard to the collapse of the financial system globally. It was particularly illuminating to hear a blow-by-blow description of what had happened when Lehman Brothers was decided to let go. The insight that we were privileged to have gave us a greater understanding of what had happened. From my personal point of view, I was most interested to see that in Switzerland they are not following a Keynesian model. Credit Suisse itself got out of trading in derivatives very early, which contrasted with UBS, which did not, which was very much into CDOs. Credit Suisse has said it will take no government funding and raised $10 billion itself, whereas UBS is taking government money. I found that also their department of finance, again, were not following a Keynesian model and were being far more conservative in the way that they were spending money with regard to stimulus packages. There was no cash splash as we have had here. They also recognise the fact that, because Germany is the largest exporting country in the world and largely dependent on manufacturing, Switzerland would suffer also as a result of Germany’s downturn.
The delegation’s program also included informative meetings with several United Nations agencies in Geneva and we welcomed the opportunity to participate in a lunch hosted by Ambassador Carolyn Miller, with several Australians actively involved in the UN system, and a dinner hosted by Ambassador Peter Grey, with Dr Francis Gurry, the newly elected Director-General of the World Intellectual Property Organisation—a pretty fierce fight that had been, too—and Mr Keith Rockwell, Director of the Information and External Relations Division of the WTO.
Mr Speaker, I thank you for your leadership during the delegation and also thank my colleagues for what was a very productive and informative visit.