Monday, 24 June 2013
Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Delegation to Indonesia and Timor-Leste
I present reports of the delegation of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade to Timor-Leste and Indonesia. I present this report as leader of the delegation and not as Parliamentary Secretary for the Arts.
The principal purpose of the delegation's visit, which took place between 7 and 11 November 2011, was to meet and conduct discussions with counterpart committees in the national parliaments of Indonesia and Timor-Leste. In doing so, the committee sought to deepen the connection with members of these parliaments and to help build Australia's relationship with Indonesia and Timor-Leste.
The visit followed the proposal made by the Presiding Officers in 2008 for an exchange program with the foreign affairs committee of the Indonesian parliament, Komisi I, and was first recommended in the committee's report on its major inquiry into Australia's relationship with Indonesia, entitled Near neighboursgood neighbours.The Near neighbours report noted that such meetings would represent a 'valuable connection' between the foreign affairs committees of both parliaments and would allow for both parties to air concerns, exchange viewpoints and, on occasions, clarify misunderstandings. The delegation's visit provided exactly this opportunity for connections between parliamentarians to be established or renewed, concerns to be aired and viewpoints to be exchanged.
In Indonesia, the committee held discussions with the chair and members of Komisi I—or Commission I—the Indonesian parliament's committee on foreign affairs and defence, and Commission VI, the committee on trade investment and industry. Our discussions traversed issues such as the suspension of live cattle exports, Indonesia's recently passed State Intelligence Law and de-radicalisation across the archipelago, the people-smuggling issue and the positive role Indonesia aspires to play in developments in the Middle East, particularly as a model for a successful transition to democracy. Encouragingly, Indonesia's counterparts stated with confidence that, although the presidential election in 2014 may be more of a test for the country's nascent democracy than other recent elections, there was, 'No road back to the authoritarian past.' The delegation was pleased to note that, despite the irritants which arise from time to time, the relationship with Indonesia is now of such breadth and depth that it can withstand such challenges.
Nevertheless, the delegation is of the view that the Australian government should, at all times, adopt a respectful communication and dialogue with both Indonesia and Timor Leste. In Timor Leste, the committee held discussions with the chair and many members of Commission B—the parliament's committee on foreign affairs, defence and national security. Issues included maritime security and illegal fishing, the development of the Greater Sunrise oil and gas fields, Timor Leste's need for foreign investment, employment and other challenges. Discussions were held in a very respectful atmosphere, and I think the people in the committee were very pleased that we had come to them. Among the other appointments, the committee had the honour of meeting the President of Timor Leste, his excellency Jose Ramos-Horta. The president spoke very candidly to us, including about priorities of Australia's development assistance, greater access for the Timorese people to our Seasonal Worker Program and full vocational training in Australia, which would be clearly welcomed, as expressed by him, as would assistance to encourage investment in ongoing defence and police training support.
I am pleased to note that, following the visit, the committee commenced an inquiry into Australia's relationship with Timor Leste. This is timely, as the UN mandate has now expired and the Australian-led International Stabilisation Force recently departed the country. It is an appropriate time to be recasting the relationship in Timor Leste's post-independence era. In both Timor Leste and Indonesia, the delegation was pleased to be able to visit a number of aid projects funded by Australia, such as sanitation projects in Indonesia, and support for agriculture, water and food initiatives in Timor Leste. These projects are manifestly assisting in their respective country's development and improving the lives of ordinary people. Our assistance helps create tremendous goodwill towards Australia in these countries. A theme which emerged in both Timor Leste and Indonesia was that Australia's trade and investment relationship with both countries is seriously underdone, particularly given the significance of the broader relationship between our countries. The delegation believes that this issue must be given greater attention.
On behalf of the delegation, I thank our counterparts in the parliaments of Timor Leste and Indonesia, who made time to hold constructive discussions with us. I also thank our ambassadors, their staff and the officials of various government agencies stationed in Indonesia and Timor Leste for their invaluable assistance. I also thank the secretary of the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, Mr Jerome Brown.
The delegation hopes that the exchanges between foreign affairs, defence and trade committees in Australia, Indonesia and Timor Leste will take place on a regular basis and continue to assist with the strengthening of bonds of friendship and facilitating greater understanding between our countries. There is probably nothing more important for Australia than our relationship with Indonesia, in particular. They are an enormous nation of tens of millions of people, mainly of the Muslim faith, and it is no coincidence that we have good and peaceful relations with them. Any moves to jeopardise that ought to be taken very seriously by the Australian people.
In accordance with standing order 39(f) the report was made a parliamentary paper.
On indulgence, I would also like to speak on the outcomes of the delegation, which I had the privilege of joining between 7 and 11 November 2011. The Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade visited Timor Leste and Indonesia in order to have discussions with their national parliamentarians and to deepen the connection and understanding between our respective countries. The visit to Indonesia followed shortly after the suspension of the Northern Australian live cattle trade with Indonesia, and during the focus on the plight of young Indonesian fishermen who had been manning people smuggler vessels and have consequently ended up in detention in Australia, hence there was an expectation of lively discussion. We were pleased to find that, notwithstanding these serious matters, such is the strength of our relationship with Indonesia, with our counterparts as members of parliament and officials, that we were able to continue our dialogue quite openly on these, as well as a range of other important matters. These included our trade relationships, our foreign aid contributions, human rights and democracy, climate change responses, counter-terrorism initiatives and the development of the justice sector.
In Timor Leste, we were briefed on the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections. We were particularly concerned that we could support them with volunteers or observers as they aim to have a free and transparent election.
We also wanted to talk about the exiting of the UN personnel, given that the UN mandate was expiring shortly, the country's development challenges and the efficacy of Australia's foreign aid contributions. We are in fact Timor-Leste's largest bilateral aid donor, contributing the equivalent of A$104.2 million in 2011-12. In the period from 1999 to June 2011, Australia donated $1.04 billion in emergency and developmental aid to Timor-Leste, so clearly it is most important that that aid is properly targeted and that it responds to the greatest needs of the country.
When in Timor-Leste, we were able to also focus on our combined efforts to combat illegal fishing, and to promote tourism and education exchanges. We looked very carefully at the recent investments in some fishing vessels and, as we stood on the wharf and heard about the trials and tribulations associated with manning those vessels and having the resources to combat illegal fishing, we shared their concerns, including the fact that the pillaging of their fisheries, a rich natural resource, needs to be addressed urgently. In addition, they need greater support to develop their great diving prospects for tourism, and education exchanges between our two countries need to continue, as we were able to see how valuable they could be.
We were keen to hear how the country aims to meet the challenge of having some 50 per cent of its population under 19, given the poverty, poor nutrition and unemployment or underemployment that typically impacts on the smaller populations away from the capital of Dili. There were also issues to be discussed in relation to the Greater Sunrise gas fields resource and associated infrastructure, a matter of great interest to both of our two countries. We had full and frank discussions about the location of that infrastructure and how Timor-Leste intended to make sure that the royalties flowing from their gas fields are used for the betterment of future generations, not just for the here and now.
One of the highlights of the time I had in Timor-Leste was when I went with the deputy chair of the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade—that is, the member for Gilmore, Ms Jo Gash—up to a very small village which had received support from some of her own constituents in the form of solar energy panels. Despite the very poor soils and low-level subsistence agriculture that was sustaining that village, they met us with a huge feast and some beautiful woven tokens of their friendship. The children sang songs and the leaders of the village made impassioned speeches. As the rain fell down gently, I could not help but remember how generous those communities had been in the Second World War, when they helped our soldiers to hide and then counter the Japanese invasion. These small villages continue to have real issues with poor nutrition, and the stunting of their children's growth is evident. It was an important delegation. (Time expired)