Thursday, 17 March 2016
Australian Parliamentary Delegation to United Kingdom and Germany
by leave—I present the report of the Australian Parliamentary Delegation to the United Kingdom and Germany from 26 October to 5 November 2015, and seek leave to make a short statement in connection with the report.
It was my great privilege to lead this delegation, which also comprised the member for Parkes, Mr Coulton MP; Senator Carr; and Senator Fawcett. The delegation was very pleased to contribute to the valuable relationship that Australia has with the UK and Germany and to exchange views on areas of common interest.
In the UK, the delegation met with parliamentarians in Westminster, London; and Holyrood, Edinburgh. The delegation was interested in discussions on the devolution of powers from the Westminster parliament to the Scottish Parliament. Following the outcome of the referendum in September 2014 in Scotland, which was a 45 per cent 'yes' vote for independence, all major parties agreed to devolve further powers to Scotland. These enhanced powers to the Scottish Parliament will come into full effect later this year.
Another significant issue in the UK is 'Brexit', which refers to the possibility of Great Britain leaving the European Union. Prime Minister Cameron has committed to hold a referendum by the end of 2017 on whether the UK should remain in the EU. The delegation heard from those in favour of staying in the EU and also from those in favour of exiting the EU. The delegation notes that the Scottish Parliament supports remaining in the EU.
The defence relationship with the United Kingdom is well established and extends across a breadth of areas, including science and technology, capability development, cyber and space, and service-to-service engagement. During its visit, the delegation had the opportunity to discuss current parliamentary committee inquiries; the UK's strategic defence and security review; possible military interventions against ISIL and Daesh and the situation in Syria; defence procurement and defence capability; and budget and workforce requirements.
The delegation made site visits to BAE Naval Ships and Thales Optronics in Glasgow. At BAE, the delegation was interested to discuss the UK's continuous shipbuilding program, and at Thales Optronics the delegation toured the factory floor; discussed optronics in major equipment, such as the periscopes in the Collins class submarines; and inspected a Thales Hawkei vehicle—one of the vehicles being acquired by the Australian Defence Force under Project Land 121.
In London the delegation met with Mr Akbar Kahn, the new Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. Mr Khan was recommended to the 61st general assembly by the association's international executive committee, which is made up of representatives of the nine regions of the CPA: Africa; Asia; Australia; the British islands and Mediterranean; Canada; Caribbean, Americas and Atlantic; India; Pacific; and South-East Asia.
Mr Khan and representatives of the CPA UK branch encouraged Australia to rejoin the CPA and spoke of the benefits of the work of the CPA, which aims to connect, develop, promote and support parliamentarians and their staff to identify benchmarks of good governance and the implementation of the enduring values of the Commonwealth. The delegation notes the renewal in the leadership of the CPA and the enthusiasm of the UK for Australia to contribute to good governance again. All delegates are supportive of the Australian federal parliament rejoining the CPA.
Renewable energy was a feature of the delegation's program in the UK and Germany, which included site visits to Whitelee wind farm, the UK's largest onshore wind farm, located close to Glasgow, and to the energy self-sufficient village of Feldheim, which is located approximately 70 kilometres from Berlin.
The major issue in Germany at the time was the migration crisis. At the time the delegation visited, in November 2015, Germany was receiving 1,200 people seeking asylum per week. In Cologne, the delegation visited two sites of temporary accommodation for refugees: a former hardware store which is managed by the Red Cross, with about 100 residents, mainly families; and self-contained apartments, managed by Caritas, which had about 80 residents, including 30 families. Our German parliamentary colleagues spoke about the right under the German Constitution to guarantee asylum in Germany to all people who face political persecution. However, there are challenges with processing the large number of asylum seekers entering Germany, and the German parliament was considering a package of measures to reduce incentives and to fast-track the processing of economic refugees.
The bilateral relationship with Germany is strengthened through the Australia-Germany Advisory Group, AGAG, which was established in November 2014 and is co-chaired by the Australian Minister for Finance, Senator the Hon. Mathias Cormann, and the German Minister of State, Dr Maria Bohmer. AGAG's report, Collaboration, innovation and opportunity, outlined opportunities for enhancing the engagement between our two countries. The report was presented to Prime Minister Turnbull and Chancellor Merkel in Berlin on 13 November 2015.
The visit to Germany provided the delegation with an opportunity to build on the linkages established through AGAG. Mr Volkmar Klein, the Chair of the Germany-Australia Parliamentary Friendship Group, was an exceptional host during the delegation's visit. A fortnight ago, the delegation was pleased to welcome Mr Klein, who led a visit to Canberra of the Germany-Australia Parliamentary Friendship Group. The meeting gave delegates the opportunity to debrief with our German counterparts on the effectiveness of the program in Germany and for delegates to further discuss the opportunity that lies ahead to strengthen and deepen the bilateral relationship between Australia and Germany.
Finally, I wish to place on the record my appreciation of the work that went into preparing the visit, including the arrangements made by the Australian parliament's International and Parliamentary Relations Office, the CPA UK branch, officials from the Scottish Parliament, and the administration of the German Bundestag. I also thank Australia's diplomatic missions in the United Kingdom and Germany for their work in developing the programs and the excellent support that was provided during the visit. I thank Susan Cardell, our delegation secretary, for her magnificent professionalism and organisational skills. I also thank the deputy leader, Senator Kim Carr, for his contributions and the valuable work of the government whip, Mark Coulton MP, and Senator David Fawcett on the delegation. I commend this report to the House.