House debates

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Delegation Reports

Australian Parliamentary Delegation to Uganda, Kazakhstan and Hungary

10:44 am

Photo of Peter SlipperPeter Slipper (Fisher, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I present the report of the Australian delegation to the 126th Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly, and to Kazakhstan and Hungary from 31 March to 19 April 2012, and I ask leave of the House to make a short statement in connection with the report.

Leave granted.

It was my privilege to lead the delegation to the IPU, as Speaker of the House of Representatives, in Uganda, and on the bilateral visits to Kazakhstan and Hungary. Given the disparate parts of the world in which these countries are situated, travel was somewhat of a challenge. But, I have to say that, as with all parliamentary delegations from this place, there was a great sense of camaraderie amongst the delegates—party affiliations of course were put aside—and everyone worked very well together as representatives of this parliament, and indeed this nation.

The deputy leader of the delegation was the honourable member for Lyons and he attended the IPU and the visit to Kazakhstan. Senator Ursula Stephens had planned to visit but because of illness of a family member was unable to be present. The other members of the delegation included Senator Sue Boyce, the now Chief Government Whip, and the honourable member for Barker. Because we were going on to Hungary and there was no government representative, I would like to thank the honourable member for Fowler for stepping in at the last minute to participate as part of that delegation.

The delegation was also accompanied by Tim Knapp, an adviser in my office when I was Speaker of the House of Representatives, and Ms Claressa Surtees from the Department of the House of Representatives attended matters associated with the IPU. I would like to place on record my thanks to Ms Jeanette Radcliffe from the Department of the Senate, who was the delegation secretary. The delegation was also accompanied by my wife, Inge; Ms Dee Alty, the partner of the honourable member for Lyons; Ms Sharon Secker. Ms Bernadette Hayes accompanied her husband for the part of the visit that he was present for.

I have to say that the IPU is one of those very worthwhile institutions where there is a two-way exchange of ideas. We as a developed, First World country, obviously have a lot to contribute, but that does not mean that we have a monopoly on good ideas and common sense. There was full participation in every aspect of the assembly, and I must say that I was particularly proud that members of our delegation took key roles in participating in various aspects of what was happening.

While in Uganda, I was invited to a private meeting with the President at the state house. It was a very interesting experience to be conveyed at a very high rate of speed from Kampala to the state house, where we had a 40-minute meeting and the President happily reminisced about his visit to the Sunshine Coast for CHOGM. He reminisced about a whole range of matters and we largely listened; it was pretty clear that the President thinks very well of Australia.

I have been critical of governments on both sides of the political divide for inadequately providing enough diplomatic representation for us to have an appropriate footprint for a nation of our size throughout the world. That is one of the reasons we as a country have found it so difficult to be elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council; because, compared to many of the countries that come along to vote, we do not have resident representation.

I raise that in the context of Kazakhstan and also the recent budget decision made by the government to close the embassy and Hungary which I believe is one of the most stupid decisions that any government has made, given the fact that the embassy will close two weeks before the election on 14 September and given the bilateral connections that we have with Hungary with 260,000 people of Hungarian or part-Hungarian origin making a wonderful contribution to this nation.

To visit Kazakhstan and go to Astana was a very interesting experience. We did have the opportunity of meeting with a range of people at a very high level and it was obvious that, although Australia has no representation officially other than a consulate in Almaty and Kazakhstan does not have any resident diplomatic presence in Australia, the two countries have a lot to offer. We do have a lot in common and I have to say that the program was put together was one which was appreciated by all honourable members. I think it was a very worthwhile program. We got to meet the chairman of both the houses of the Kazakh parliament. We got to visit a whole range of places and we were able to settle Australia's image very well in that country.

I want to place on record my appreciation to Her Excellency the Hungarian Ambassador to Australia, Ms Anna Siko, because she actually accompanied the delegation. I also want to thank Mr John Griffin who is the current Australian ambassador to Hungary. I was shocked when the budget was announced that despite the fact Australia and Hungary have these close relationships we are going to lose our diplomatic presence in that country. Hungary, after all, is an important country in central Europe. It is in many respects a gateway to the EU and central Europe for Australia and Australia is a gateway for Hungary into the Asia-Pacific region.

In Hungary we met the Speaker of the parliament; the minister for foreign affairs; Mr Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary and the Deputy Prime Minister. Essentially in both Kazakhstan and Hungary all doors were open to us. I would also like to thank Ms Twomey who was the non-resident ambassador to Kazakhstan based in Moscow because she also was of incredible assistance to us.

I have placed on record that while I think that there are many evils in our world, there is no evil worse than anti-Semitism. I have to say that I was privileged to participate in the March of the Living in Budapest which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the birth of Raoul Wallenberg. The Australian ambassador accompanied us. The Hungarian ambassador to Australia was there. The acting President of Hungary was there. I thought it was a very clever action on the part of our ambassador to Hungary because he managed to position the Australian flag on the stage in a way that no-one could doubt our support for the wonderful work that Raoul Wallenberg carried out, saving from the gas chambers so many people and ultimately, of course, as we all know he lost his life after the war at the hands of the Soviets.

I would like to thank the work of Mr Geoff Barnett, the international community relations office person who was our link person and Mr Tony Styles from the Department of the Senate. He was also of excellent assistance to the committee.

In closing, I had planned, as Speaker of the House of Representatives, to lead the delegation to the IPU meeting in Quebec. I know the report is going to be given by my colleague the honourable member for Lyons. I must say my bag was packed. I felt a bit as did the honourable member for Hunter when he lost his position and therefore lost the opportunity of visiting another IPU, but the member for Lyons stepped in willingly and, from all reports that I have had, carried out his responsibilities as leader of that delegation admirably.

I thank the House for its indulgence. I want to place on record that I think we should have more delegations from Australia going abroad and more incoming delegations. As Speaker, I endeavoured to engage with the diplomatic community, and I think that that was appreciated by the diplomatic community. We have to understand that sending delegations overseas is a relatively cheap cost to our nation for the goodwill that those delegations build up in the countries visited. I thank the House.