Tuesday, 27 November 2018
Australian Parliamentary Delegation to the United Kingdom, France and Ireland
I present the report of the Australian Parliamentary Delegation to the United Kingdom, France and Ireland, 3 to 14 June 2018. I ask leave of the House to make a short statement in connection with the report.
I was part of a very illustrious delegation led by the President of the Senate, Senator Scott Ryan. The other members included myself; my colleague and friend Mr Steve Georganas, who happily returned many times; the member for Hindmarsh; Senator Pauline Hanson, who I had my first opportunity to get to speak to in detail; Mr Tim Wilson, the member for Goldstein; and Jason Wood, the very active local member for La Trobe. The delegation was ably supported by Duncan Pearse, advisor to the President; and David Sullivan, the delegation secretary.
We went to the United Kingdom, France and Ireland, and had many focuses of our visit, including trade and investment policy, particularly the UK's future trade relationship with Australia after it leaves—it is still trying to—the European Union; counterterrorism and security policy, including the security of parliamentary precincts; LGBTI policies and program; approaches to healthcare administration; youth and gang violence; energy policy; and policies to address foreign interference and the spread of misinformation and fake news via new and emerging social media platforms.
Our visit to the United Kingdom was, for Australians, as usual, very engaging. We, of course, remain an enormous economic partner with what many Australians used to call the motherland. The UK is Australia's fourth-largest inbound market by arrivals and third-largest by tourism expenditure. The UK is also Australia's fourth-largest short-term destination, with 632,000 short-term resident departures from Australia to the UK for the year ending 2018. The strength of the bilateral relationship is difficult to comment on. We were received very graciously by all kinds of people. Of course, there were many visits by prime ministers and foreign ministers. In our case, we had just been to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting before we were there. Trade and investment between the countries is immense. The UK is Australia's fifth-largest two-way trading partner, worth $27 billion in 2016-17, and our third-largest service trading partner. Interestingly, with all of the interest in investment by Beijing, the UK remains Australia's second-largest source of total foreign investment and the second-largest destination for foreign direct investment.
While we were there, the United Kingdom was transfixed by the Brexit debate. Our visit to the trade committee was extraordinarily divisive, with, particularly, members of the Conservative Party fighting each other throughout the meeting. It was in a very polite way and done very pleasantly, but it demonstrated to us how deeply divisive that issue was within the governing party.
We were extremely graciously received by the high commissioner, the former Attorney-General, the Hon. George Brandis QC, who was kind enough to take me to visit Karl Marx's grave. I think the pictures of the two of us there were quite extraordinary. I think we were both establishing that he had indeed passed. That was at Highgate Cemetery, of course. It did surprise us that his grave was surrounded by the tombstones of many minor Socialists who sought to associate themselves, even in death, with the honourable Karl Marx—well, 'honourable'? I don't know.
The UK's exit from the EU will fundamentally change the framework of Australia-UK trade and investment. I'm sure the delegation is confident that we're not going to have our economic relationship affected by the Brexit issue. In fact, it may enhance, in an odd way, Australia's relationship.
We met the intelligence committee, headed by the Right Hon. Dominic Grieve, who is currently conducting major inquiries into historical detention and rendition, drone strikes into Syria against IS, and recent terrorist attacks in London and Manchester. We were able to attend the commemoration of the first anniversary of the attack on London Bridge, which was held at Southwark Cathedral on 3 June, and that was extremely moving.
I was very pleased, as was the whole delegation, to meet with friend of Australia the Right Hon. Mark Field, Minister of State for Asia and the Pacific. He was able to remark, and we were able to agree, that Britain's interests in this part of the world were being re-cemented. British interests in the South Pacific and in the Asia-Pacific area more generally were being enhanced. We had just seen the first visit of a British ship to the South China Sea, which enhanced international navigation rights by making free transit of that ocean as guaranteed under the international Law of the Sea treaty. It is pleasing to see that a number of European powers, including France and Britain, have sought to associate themselves with transit of that international sea.
We had fascinating meetings in Paris, including the most moving breakfast with deputies of the French National Assembly from the Somme, where my grandfather fought in the First World War. I just thought it was an amazing piece of serendipity to have breakfast with them and to just sit opposite people from the area that my grandfather actually fought in.
At a broad level, Australia and France share a common vision and work cooperatively in global security to combat terrorism and violent extremism. I was particularly pleased to introduce Senator Hanson to a young female Muslim deputy of the National Assembly. She had made a brilliant presentation to us about how, in France, they are legislating to prevent fake news influencing presidential elections. It appears that Russia tried to do this at the last elections, and influenced the election against Mr Macron. In France, what they're going to do is have an independent judicial group make judgements within 24 hours about fake news interventions on social media during the election period. That independent judicial group will make a deliberation about those issues and stop them, if necessary. I've seen that Mr Zuckerberg is in trouble in a number of jurisdictions around the world—France, Britain, the United States and even here—and it's particularly over the issue of the use of Facebook algorithms to increase division in society and to interfere in democratic political decisions.
There was one thing that I really wish we'd had an opportunity to do more of, and that was to discuss the bilateral relationship with France on the Future Submarine program. We could have done a bit more on that. But, altogether, the visit to France—the impression of its magnificent historical settings for the French Senate and the National Assembly, and it's archive—really make you understand the great history of that country.
The delegation was interested to learn about the policies and procedures in place for France's parliamentary precincts. They're even stricter than they are here. Terrorist attacks in 2014 and 2015 and public order disturbances have become a focus of attention, with the security system for the parliamentary precinct upgraded, as Senator Ryan reports, to include high levels of surveillance, the arming of security guards with weapons and protective jackets, and restricted access to the building. However, the French parliament's buildings, some of which date to the 17th century, create many practical constraints on implementing security measures, most of which aren't faced here.
Our visit to Ireland focused on issues of Brexit, electoral reform, data protection and standards of public office. We were most graciously received by people in the Dail. Everything they say about the Irish—their hospitality and their warmth—I found to be accurate.
Apart from thanking my colleagues who were on the delegation, I want to thank, in particular, John Bercow, the Speaker of the British parliament, and the High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, George Brandis—our visit to Highgate Cemetery was particularly memorable. I want to thank the President of the Senate, Scott Ryan, for the organisation of the visit and the very intense program that was prepared for us. I found it extremely worthwhile; in particular, in the area of data protection and intelligence sharing.