House debates

Monday, 18 June 2007

Delegation Reports

Australian Parliamentary Delegation to the Republic of Malta and Spain and Report on the Official Visit to Kuwait of the President of the Senate

12:31 pm

Photo of Bernie RipollBernie Ripoll (Oxley, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Industry and Innovation) Share this | | Hansard source

I present the report of the Australian Parliamentary Delegation to the Republic of Malta and Spain from 14 to 24 April 2007 and the official visit to Kuwait of the President of the Senate from 24 to 26 April 2007. I had the great honour and privilege to be the deputy leader for the recent Australian parliamentary delegation to the Republic of Malta and to Spain. I would like to start by thanking Ms Andrea Griffiths, the delegation secretary, who is with the Department of the Senate, and also the private secretary to the President of the Senate, Mr Don Morris. They were extremely helpful to the delegation in both countries. I would like to thank the leader of the delegation, Senator the Hon. Paul Calvert, the President of the Senate, and also the delegation members: the Hon. Ian Causley MP, the member for Page, who is in the House this afternoon; the Hon. Warren Entsch MP; Senator Concetta Fierravanti-Wells; and Senator Andrew Murray. This was a very good delegation, and comprised people interested in both those countries. Even though our interest did not mean we knew everything about those countries, we obviously took a lot of interest in them.

While in Malta the objectives of the delegation were to renew and strengthen our ties with the Maltese parliament and people to gain a better understanding of some of the key economic, political and social issues which are always important to the exchanges between our two countries. We wished to exchange ideas to get a better understanding of how we work and to discuss issues of immigration and migration. We also discussed issues that relate particularly to Malta, such as desalination and water, something which is very close to all our hearts in Australia because of the current drought. Another objective was of course to enhance trade, investment and tourism, and to strengthen those bonds between our two countries. In Spain, the objectives of the delegation were similar: to renew and strengthen our ties with the parliament and the people; to learn a bit more about some of the domestic, economic, political and social issues in that country; and to have a better understanding of how our relationship works with that country.

I will give the House a bit of background on Malta, which I previously did not know a lot about. Surprisingly to me, and probably to many other people, it is a very small country that is made up of a number of archipelagos in the Mediterranean. It has an incredible history dating back many hundreds, even thousands, of years. What particularly ties Australia and Malta together is that Malta was involved in the Gallipoli campaign as part of the British armed forces. Quite a number of Australian servicemen who were wounded at Gallipoli were hospitalised in Malta. Malta was then known as the ‘nurse of the Mediterranean’. Those soldiers were there to recover, but those who unfortunately did not recover are buried in Malta. It was a great honour for the delegation to lay a wreath at the memorial at the Pietta Military Cemetery to commemorate Anzac Day 2007, which was a very moving experience for the whole delegation.

We also had the pleasure of meeting the President of Malta, His Excellency Dr Edward Fenech Adami, who recounted his visit to Australia and the relationship between our two people. We had some very good outcomes as far as the potential for future trade and how we might learn from something that the Maltese do very well—that is, finance on the global scene. We met with both the chairman and the president of the Malta Financial Services Authority, and we exchanged some ideas with them. All in all it was a fantastic visit and a great experience, and it certainly strengthened the ties between Malta and Australia.

The delegation spent some time in Spain, which also has a fabulous and interesting history. I do not have time to go through it today, but a successful transition to democracy not so long ago and then joining the EU in 1986 made an incredible difference to Spain on all fronts. We had the great pleasure of having an audience with His Majesty King Juan Carlos I at which we spoke directly about some trade issues. It is great to see a monarch who, while he has his country at the forefront of his mind, can quickly move from the country and the people to trade and to how his country can do better from the relationship between our two nations.

We had a number of meetings with a range of people, from senators and members to chambers of commerce. We talked about trade. We talked about the relations between our two countries. We talked about terrorism and antiterrorism and how we can work better together in the global sense, taking particular interest in the fact that Spain has had to deal with terrorism at the local level for the past 40 years as well as with international terrorism. Spain has a wonderful culture of food, fun and tourism. Delegation members really appreciated and felt a great kindness and likeness between our two countries. It was a wonderful delegation. (Time expired)

12:37 pm

Photo of Ian CausleyIan Causley (Page, Deputy-Speaker) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a pleasure to support the honourable member in the comments he has made about the President’s trip to Malta and Spain. I think all members of the Australian Parliamentary Delegation to the Republic of Malta and Spain were hit by the fact that we had not realised the importance of Malta in the Mediterranean. I certainly had not. When you go there and see the history you start to realise that anyone who was ever a power in the Mediterranean, from the Phoenicians on, controlled Malta. Of course it is very central to the Mediterranean. It has a flourishing economy and a very good standard of living. It has a population of only 400,000 people on two rocky islands. It has a lot of problems with water. In fact, it has three plants which, by osmosis, convert seawater to freshwater. The economy is quite strong. Because it is so close to the Suez Canal it has adapted to trade there. There is a free port where large containerships come into port. They unload and the cargo is then disseminated around Europe.

They also have a system that could be helpful to Australian companies. Since returning to Australia I have contacted a number of companies concerning a very lucrative arrangement whereby the Maltese government encourages companies to establish in Malta. Now that they have joined the EU—they speak perfect English; the last occupation was by the British—they are an excellent staging post for any Australian company wanting to get into the European market. That is something which made a strong impression on me and it is something that Australia should be aware of. The member for Oxley said that we have a very good relationship with Malta because of the fact that many Maltese have migrated to Australia. There are probably as many Maltese or Maltese descendents in Australia as there are on the island. We have a very strong relationship.

Spain is a very interesting country. It has many problems that Australia can identify with, particularly with border control and illegal immigration. It has problems concerning fishing and neighbouring countries; the Canary Islands are part of Spain. In our discussions with Spain we were able to share our experiences. To an extent the problem of illegal immigration was to the fore in Malta as well. Spain is doing quite well at present. The economy is moving along strongly. It has problems with some of the provinces which want independence. That has been going on for a long time, as we know. Some of the issues with terrorism stem from that area. I believe that while the economy is moving along quite strongly many of the issues will remain fairly quiet. Many people who want independence never seem to think through the issues that will arise if they gain independence. What are they going to do about their economies? How are they to support themselves as an independent area? Those are very important questions. Spain is like Australia in many ways, although I would have to say that many of the provinces have more independence—if that is possible—than Australia’s states. It is interesting to see the way they deal with that issue.

As the member for Oxley said, we met some very eminent people in Spain, from King Don Juan Carlos I down to the President of the Senate, the President of the Congress of Deputies and other prominent people. We had some very in-depth discussions. Spain is currently bidding for a contract with the Australian Navy for the supply of some ships to the Australian Navy and was very keen to impress upon us the importance of that contract. The country is very colourful. There were bullfights every night we were there—not that we got to see one. We did see a display of horse carriages, Mr Speaker, that you would have envied—about 150. There were all the stately carriages of the past. We saw all the different ways of rigging horses, some of which I had never seen before. The display would have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. It was very colourful and people were dressed up in their national costumes. I believe that the visit to Malta and Spain was very valuable. We certainly made good progress—(Time expired)