Thursday, 13 February 2020
Statement by the Speaker
Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum
on indulgence—I congratulate you and all the officials and office-bearers of the parliament for the wonderful APPF conference which was held here in Canberra in January. This was a very significant event for countries that border the Pacific. Now in its 28th year, this conference brings together members of parliament from all of those Pacific rim nations. Importantly, this year it brought together—as you said, Sir—delegations of observers from many of our Pacific island partner countries. It shows an opportunity for this parliament and, through this parliament, the people of Australia to reach out not just to the nations that are well formed and have been part of this organisation for such a long period of time but also to our Pacific neighbours. I congratulate you, Mr Speaker, on the chairing of this conference here in Canberra, with some 300 delegates from some 19 member countries and 10 observer countries. I also congratulate the other members of the Australian delegation—including Senator Lines and Senator Dean Smith, who co-chaired the drafting committee with me—for the work that was undertaken during the conference.
I make this broad observation, Mr Speaker: in the world in which we are at the present time and the one which we are increasingly moving into, the role of the Australian parliament and the role of individual parliamentarians in playing a part in the national and international diplomacy which is required of this country is going to become more and more critical into the future. Conferences, seminars, meetings such as the APPF and other occasions in which Australian parliamentarians join with others, such as the ASEAN meetings and visits to other countries, I believe have perhaps been undervalued by the parliament broadly in terms of the contribution we can make to our national prosperity and national security. And I think we, as a group—if I can say that, Mr Speaker—need to rethink, on a bipartisan basis, our role in terms of parliamentarians in our outreach, particularly to those countries and nations within our own area. For example, there's currently a renewed emphasis on the countries of the Pacific and Australia's role in relation to those countries. And there's a real place for members of this parliament, on perhaps a more-organised basis than we have used in the past, to look at our role as, in effect, diplomats for Australia and how we can advance the interests of this country, the national interests of Australia, in terms of our relationship with those within our immediate area.
We know that the world in which we live has become much more uncertain than it was even five or 10 years ago. That's unlikely to change. Those trends are there, and it's likely that they will continue into the future. So we, individually as members of parliament and also in the context of this particular discussion—as members of delegations that go to these countries and these events—can play a much greater role. I think there's a role there for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to be more engaged in an interface with us as members of parliament in that regard, and I thank the department for the advice they gave, particularly to me as chair of the drafting committee, during that process.
I will cease there. I was once told by a judge, when I was at the bar, 'Your argument is not enhanced by its repetition'! So I won't repeat it, except to say that this is very important. I congratulate you, Sir, on becoming the president, following the tragic death of Mr Nakasone, the former Prime Minister of Japan, who was the powerhouse in starting this organisation almost three decades ago. He was the honorary president for many, many years. But, with his death, some changes to the constitution and the rules have meant that you, Sir, are now the president at least for the next year, and of course there'll be another conference in South Korea probably in the early part of 2021. I hope there will be a well-attended Australian delegation to work on this important relationship that we have with all the countries of the Pacific. Thank you.