Wednesday, 22 August 2018
Australian Parliamentary Delegation to the 138th Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly
I present the report of the Australian delegation to the 138th Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly that was held in Geneva, Switzerland from 24 to 28 March 2018 and I ask leave of the House to make a short statement in connection with the report.
I'm very pleased to make some remarks upon the tabling of the report in relation to the delegation from this parliament to the 138th Inter-Parliamentary Union, an assembly that took place earlier this year in March. The Australian delegation was ably led by Senator Ian Macdonald and also included my friend and colleague Senator Catryna Bilyk from the other place. Together we participated in and contributed to the IPU Assembly, whose general debate focus was on strengthening the global regime for migrants and refugees and the need for evidence based solutions. It was attended by 829 parliamentarians from 148 countries, which included 98 presiding or deputy-presiding members.
The Inter-Parliamentary Union is the international organisation constituted by the parliamentarians of sovereign states. Its focus is on promoting and supporting strong, effective and independent parliaments as a key feature of democratic governance. Of course, the IPU recognises that all parliaments and their members face challenges and so it works to build democratic capacity and the expertise of its members to encourage dialogue and to monitor and respond to circumstances that threaten the independence and good function of parliaments or that otherwise interfere with the ability of parliamentarians to undertake their work. The IPU is a healthy reminder of the significance of parliaments in their own right, separate from the executive within government. It's an opportunity at those assembly gatherings to hear firsthand from other parliamentarians whose circumstances and experience present both familiar and sometimes wildly different challenges to the ones we face here in Australia.
In addition to the work of the general assembly and the four standing committees, the IPU is an opportunity for Australian delegates to meet with delegations from other countries. The 138th assembly created the chance for us to meet on a bilateral basis with delegations from Ukraine, Canada, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Israel. It has become customary for the Australian and New Zealand delegations to host a gathering of parliamentarians from Pacific Island nations, which on this occasion allowed us to meet with delegates from the Marshall Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu and the Federated States of Micronesia.
In the course of the assembly, there was also a session organised by the Mexico delegation through which delegates could consider the implications of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The session allowed a healthy canvassing of the merits and concerns related to the TPP, especially issues like investor-state dispute resolution mechanisms, the deregulation of temporary foreign labour arrangements and, if the US were ever to re-enter the TPP, the potential for costly extensions to the current length of monopoly rights on biological medicines.
I'd like to make particular mention of the work considered through the second committee, the standing Committee on Sustainable Development, Finance and Trade. Up to and including the most recent assembly, the member for Forrest, the Chief Government Whip, has been a much-respected member of that committee. It was a privilege to attend the meeting at this assembly in her stead. Through the process for determining a future resolution topic and with the support of my fellow delegates, I was successful in proposing that the standing committee consider in future the role of fair and free trade and investment in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, especially regarding economic equality, sustainable infrastructure, industrialisation and innovation.
Along with colleagues from Serbia and Ghana, I was appointed a co-rapporteur for the carriage of the resolution through the second committee in future. I'm looking forward to working with my fellow co-rapporteurs and parliamentary delegates in the standing committee at the next assembly to refine the details of the resolution. It's certainly a time when we need a sharpened focus on trade and infrastructure investment that can be the basis of shared inclusive wellbeing, rather than the means by which the imbalance of power between nations is translated into greater inequality, poorer health outcomes and environmental degradation.
I was also glad to attend side meetings on the urgent challenge of nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation and to contribute as a panel member on a workshop in relation to the nuclear weapon prohibition treaty. I support the purpose and objectives of that treaty. I was glad to see the work of ICAN, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, recognised in the course of that session, and it was recognised that their origins are here in Australia. The session focused on the important normative step that the NWPT represents towards peace and security.
The IPU continues to be a forum in which parliamentarians discuss and debate issues that affect us all within our sovereign nations and, most importantly, the issues that affect us in the form of global challenges—like conflict, climate change, the global displacement of people and related migration and other humanitarian crises. I want to acknowledge the work and camaraderie of my fellow IPU delegates from the other place, Senators Macdonald and Bilyk, both of whom made substantial contributions in the general debate in addition to their other work. We were very well supported by officers from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. I conclude by making special mention of Toni Matulick, the IPU delegation secretary, who kept us on schedule and ensured we were well briefed and well advised at all times.