Thursday, 28 June 2018
Australian Parliamentary Delegation to the Republic of Korea and Japan
For the information of honourable members, I present the report of the Australian Parliamentary Delegation to the Republic of Korea and Japan from 11 to 21 April this year. The delegation consisted of the Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Sue Lines; the members for Cunningham, Capricornia, and Mayo; and me. Senator Lines led the visit to the Republic of Korea, and I was privileged to lead the delegation to Japan. The Republic of Korea delegation formed part of the official 2018 bilateral parliamentary visits, and the delegation to Japan was on the invitation of the presiding officers of the Japanese diet. Senator Lines will speak to the Republic of Korea portion of the delegation in the Senate. I would like to speak to the visit to Japan.
I'd like to thank the presiding officers of the Japanese diet for inviting an Australian parliamentary delegation to their country. The delegation visited Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka, where members undertook a mix of formal and cultural activities. The delegation provided opportunities for strengthening existing relationships with parliamentary counterparts, gaining a practical insight into Australia's growing economic and social relationship with Japan and discussing existing and potential areas for intergovernmental and interparliamentary cooperation and exchange.
In this sphere, discussions focused on strengthening parliament-to-parliament links; the similarities and differences between parliamentary office positions and member services; and strengthening the Australia-Japan bilateral relationship, including trade, energy, policy and improving regional stability. The delegation discussed the issue of empowering women in politics, with reference to the Japanese parliament's initiative of establishing a parliamentary league to promote female participation in politics.
The delegation also met with Australian business representatives in Japan and Colombo Plan scholars who are Australians studying and living in Japan and saw firsthand at Japan's National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation some impressive glimpses into how robotics will assist humans into the future. The delegation was briefed on a number of important regional matters, which included maintaining regional stability and the issues surrounding the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s, which Japan is still pursuing. The delegation acknowledges the difficulty faced by the Japanese government in negotiating on this matter over an extended period and the immeasurable loss to the victims and their families.
In addition to the presiding officers, on behalf of the delegation I wish to thank members of the Japanese diet that met and hosted members on their visit to Japan. I thank the mayor and deputy mayor of Kyoto for welcoming us to their beautiful and historic city. A particular note of gratitude and appreciation is extended to His Imperial Majesty Emperor Akihito of Japan for granting a special audience with me as Speaker.
The bilateral relationship is strong. In Japan we have a friend firmly committed to democracy and the rule of law, as we are. The delegation was warmly received wherever we went. At the conclusion of our meetings I was pleased to extend a reciprocal invitation to the Speaker and President of the Japanese diet to visit the Australian parliament in the near future.
I'd like to thank the Australian ambassador to Japan, His Excellency Mr Richard Court AC, and the embassy staff for welcoming and assisting the delegation throughout the visit. In particular, I thank Ms Melanie Calvert, who accompanied the delegation whilst we were in Japan. Members appreciate the time, effort and logistical coordination required to arrange visits programs such as this. On behalf of the delegation, I thank the Australian International and Parliamentary Relations Office and the Japanese international affairs department for arranging and facilitating the program and for making it the success that it was. Thanks also to the delegation secretary, Stephanie Mikac, for her very able assistance throughout both visits.
In closing, I would like to extend delegation members' appreciation to the Japanese ambassador to Australia, Mr Sumio Kusaka, who's here on the floor this morning. Thank you and thank you to your embassy staff for briefing the delegation and for ensuring that our visit was a success on behalf of both houses of the parliament. I again thank you and I commend the report to the House.
I seek leave from the House to speak on the report of the parliamentary delegation to the Republic of Korea and Japan, particularly about the Republic of Korea.
As one of the delegates, I can confirm this was an educational experience and one that, in the range of small ways, I hope may have helped bring our great nations closer together. The purpose of the visit was to sustain and strengthen social ties and discuss issues of mutual benefit and importance to Australia and Korea. By chance, our delegates to Korea were all women, which provided a unique opportunity to discuss female representation at both parliamentary and business levels in each country. While 31 per cent of Australia's parliamentary representatives are women, female representation in the Korean parliament sits at just 18 per cent. While this is slowly improving, women were not historically involved in hard-hitting political and economic issues but tended to be overrepresented in soft social issues relating to health and education.
We met with business representatives from both Australia and Korea and heard a lot about the challenges with business in both countries. The Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement has assisted to increase and normalise trade between both countries. A tour of a popular Korean supermarket revealed the sales of fresh Australian fruit, vegetables, wine and beef. Coming from the undisputed beef capital of Australia, I was interested to see that they sold beef by the 100 grams as it is classed as a luxury item. We also visited the Hanwha Q CELLS facility, which manufactures solar panels. It was a real eye-opener to learn about the 16-step process, which is nearly totally automated. Hanwha have recently grown by establishing an operation in Sydney, further strengthening our trade bonds with South Korea.
The delegation had the opportunity to visit Sejong City, the smart, safe and happy city. Sejong is an innovative, high-technology city of the future located approximately 113 kilometres from Seoul. Construction of this city began in 2012 and expects to be completed by 2030 at a cost of AU$156 billion. The city is expected to reach a population of 500,000 on completion. Everything about this new city is about technology, from in-home waste recycling to an extensive safety- and traffic-monitoring system. The idea of Sejong City is to decrease the population in Seoul by providing an exciting and legitimate alternative community for thousands of young Koreans.
The geopolitical stability of the Korean Peninsula was, of course, a major topic of conversation during our visit. Visiting the Korean Demilitarized Zone, or the DMZ, provided a stark reminder of the tension and weight of prolonged antagonism. Walking the tunnel between North and South Korea—originally a North Korean tool of invasion—one could hardly be more thankful to live in a free and peaceful society. The area is a tourism hotspot for Korea, with thousands visiting each year. I was particularly intrigued to hear about the tax-exempt lives of residents near the border, a special incentive to keep the area populated. Families on each side of this political boundary are unfortunate victims of this ongoing state of the war. Great sadness occupies a large section of the community's psyche. Some families have been separated from loved ones for decades, some since the 1950s. Apart from a few brief reunions, these families remain separated and sorrowful—a sad and constant reminder of the silent victims of conflict.
To travel with this delegation has been a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable opportunity. To increase my understanding of the trade, culture and politics of these two unique and important partners to Australia is truly valuable. I wish to thank the secretariat, my colleagues and all the wonderful people in South Korea and Japan who helped make this experience possible.