Thursday, 17 March 2016
Australian Parliamentary Delegation to the 24th Annual Meeting of the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum
I present the report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to the 24th annual meeting of the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum, held in Vancouver, Canada, from 17 to 21 January 2016. I ask leave of the House to make a short statement in connection with this report.
This was the 24th annual meeting of the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum and it was held in Vancouver, a very cold place for we three Australians, plus our secretarial support, who travelled there in January. I was accompanied by Luke Simpkins, the member for Cowan, and Ms Anna Burke, the member for Chisholm, as well as our secretary, Cecily. I most sincerely thank the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade for the support we received in advance. The department prepared a very detailed response to the 47 draft resolutions that were put to the annual meeting by 11 countries. I am very pleased to say that Australia presented four of those motions.
The object of the meeting was the consideration of the nations in the Asia-Pacific region and the bringing together of draft resolutions to be passed through consensus. In the final hours of the forum, these resolutions were to be received, hopefully from the floor of the forum, and a communique decided by all of those who participated. The draft resolutions came from Australia, Canada, Chile, China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, the Russian Federation and Thailand. Numbers of those draft resolutions were similar in content and so were amalgamated after appropriate consultation and negotiation between the countries bringing them forward. Two from Australia, in fact, were the only two in their category of issue; one of those was the motion I brought forward, which concerned enhancing acknowledgement of indigenous peoples and recognition of the need to close the gap of disadvantage which first nations or indigenous peoples often experience in our Asia-Pacific region. That received unanimous and consensual support and went through, as did our special motion on enhancing cooperative action on climate change. Ms Burke spoke to that and also worked with the drafting committees on the motion. Interestingly, those two motions from Australia, on indigenous peoples and climate change, were the only two presented to the forum on those topics. But we also presented a motion on the need for an Arms Trade Treaty and building an international parliamentary network on anticorruption. Mr Luke Simpkins addressed the network on anticorruption and did a very good job of presenting Australia's leadership in this area, particularly since its work in the United Nations Security Council on addressing corruption globally but also in our region as it affects our near and further neighbours. The first two motions I mentioned were adopted in their original form, while the other two were amalgamated and rolled into like-minded motions. In all, 27 of the original 47 motions went through from the 11 countries and were adopted by consensus.
It was very hard work with just the three of us there, in that there were numbers of committees operating consecutively and you cannot be in all places at all times. I am very proud of the diligence and the very hard work we put into this parliamentary forum between 17 and 21 January. All of our bases were covered at all times. Certainly, that was commented upon by some of our other near neighbours—New Zealand, for example—whom we supported with their like-minded efforts, as well as Canada.
This parliamentary forum was also unique in that, for the first time, on the very first day, it was preceded by a women's forum, a women's event. This was, surprisingly, new to the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum. You would have thought that there would have been a women's parliamentary event for many years, but this was a first. It was co-chaired by Senator Mobina Jaffer from Canada and Dr Nurhayati Ali Assegaf from Indonesia. They conducted the forum—on the first day, as I said. We addressed the themes of challenges facing women's representation in parliaments, measures that can help to increase women's participation in public life and inclusive financing for women. As well, we looked at women's leadership in disaster situations and how to reduce the risks to women in disaster situations, which unfortunately are very typical of our region in terms of natural disasters and disasters associated with conflict. We examined women's leadership in building adaptive and disaster resilient communities and looked as concrete examples of how we can, through women's roles in parliaments, advance more resources towards building disaster resilience.
The plenary session considered a draft resolution on ensuring women's participation at all levels of political and public life. This draft resolution was then prepared by the co-chairs and made available to the annual meeting. I am pleased to say that it was through my facilitation that we were able to then put a motion before the executive, who are planning for the next Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum that is to be held in Fiji. I helped prepare a motion calling for this women's forum to become a standard feature of every Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum in the future.
There was also a motion calling for consideration of additional women on the executive. My suggestion was that those women be drawn from the country hosting the forum for that year and the country who had hosted the forum in the previous year. Those, of course, are matters for negotiation and decision by the executive, but they were well received, and there was a strong recognition that women as parliamentarians have a very particular role to play in broadening the resources available to all aspects of community life in different nations, especially in reducing poverty and discrimination against women. I would say that this first women's event held at an Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum was highly successful. Ms Burke, the member for Chisholm, and I were very pleased to participate fully in that women's program and agenda.
As part of my activity immediately following that forum, I made use of my time, on Australia's behalf, to further investigate how Australia can be better informed about foetal alcohol spectrum disorder through Canada's work in this area. In Australia, we have been developing a diagnostic tool for our medical practitioners and allied health professionals to use in diagnosing foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, and we have drawn very heavily on the Canadian experience and the materials that they have developed in their country. In fact, there is a strong global recognition that Canada leads the world in responding to foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.
I was able to join members of the Asante Centre in British Columbia—with Dr Asante himself, the medical director emeritus and paediatrician, and with Audrey Salahub—to talk to them about how they are further evolving their diagnostic tool. Australia will tune into those further evolutions and the work that they are doing. I was also able to meet with the Continuing Legal Education Society of British Columbia, represented by Mr Ron Friesen. They are looking at the ability of people with this condition to plead in legal situations in courts, for example. I was also able to present the Australian experience of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder to a number of interns and other training medical professionals gathered together at the BC Children's Hospital and how we are tackling it in our national program, which is now in place and, in fact, midway through. I think this added very much to the benefit for Australia of attending the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum.
We were a small number; there were just three of us. Some of the delegations had more than 20. But I do not think for a minute that we were less than effective with our representation. I want to thank the very hard work of my two colleagues Luke Simpkins, the member for Cowan; and Anna Burke, the member for Chisholm. I want to thank the Australian High Commission based in Ottawa and Victoria Walker, who was with us for the duration, having come across from Ottawa to Vancouver to support us. I am grateful for all of the work undertaken by DFAT officials in Australia in very comprehensive and thorough briefings on what were often very complex matters which required a great deal of nuance and careful consideration, given the numbers of different countries with different interests who were represented at this forum.
I commend this report to the House. I also wish Fiji all the best, given they will be hosting next year's forum. I know that Australia and New Zealand have already promised that we will do what we can do in helping to advise the representative of Fiji, who was at this forum. She asked for our advice on how they would progress, particularly with the women's forum at the beginning of the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum which is to be held in Fiji next year.