Senate debates

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Delegation Reports

55th Annual Session of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Edinburgh

5:21 pm

Photo of David JohnstonDavid Johnston (WA, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Defence) Share this | | Hansard source

by leave—I present the report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to the 55th annual session of the NATO parliamentary assembly, Edinburgh, which took place from 14 to 17 November 2009.

I seek leave to move a motion to take note of the document.

Leave granted.

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

I will speak briefly to the report. I was very pleased and delighted to participate in this delegation to NATO. This assembly comprised the NATO member countries and a number of invited and other participating delegates from associate countries. This delegation and this conference was a very important one, given our participation in ISAF in Afghanistan. The fact that we have between 1,300 and 1,500 combat troops in Tarin Kowt conducting and participating in the war on terror is a very significant thing for a country the size of Australia.

The NATO countries, numbering some 28, gather through their parliamentary representatives to consider and discuss various aspects of NATO’s functions. We as a delegation attended NATO headquarters in Belgium. Then we went across the channel to Edinburgh. There were many people who helped the delegation. His Excellency Dr Alan Thomas, the Australian Ambassador to the European Community, Belgium and Luxembourg, was very forthcoming with a great deal of advice and assistance. The mission generally provided a lot of help to what I believe is a very important part of parliamentary life in Australia, particularly while we have troops fighting in Afghanistan.

I pause to say that Colonel Michael Toohey, who is the Defence Attache to the European Community, Belgium and Luxembourg, assisted the delegation very greatly. He is a very fine Australian military officer. Upon getting off the aircraft in Belgium, to see an Australian uniform with a beautiful bright plume on a slouch hat was an absolute delight and a credit to the Royal Australian Army and to Colonel Toohey. He assisted us on our visits to a number of very important war graves, Tyne Cot and many others. He gave us thorough briefings on and the backgrounds to what had happened. We were in the very famous town of Ypres in Belgium on 11 November, which is Remembrance Day, and we participated in the services there commemorating what was a very significant historical event in Australia’s military history in Belgium in World War I.

I thank my parliamentary colleagues the Hon. Arch Bevis, the member for Brisbane; the Hon. Fran Bailey, the member for McEwen; Senator Mark Bishop, from my home state of Western Australia; and Mr Richard Selth. It was a very convivial group of people. We enjoyed ourselves enormously. The experience is very well documented in the report and sets out that the conference—particularly considering that we did meet the Dutch parliamentarians, and we are partnered with the Dutch in Oruzgan province in Afghanistan—was a most useful and beneficial one to attend. I believe that Australia should participate, particularly considering that not only are we involved in Afghanistan but also from time to time participate in taskforce 151, which is an antipiracy taskforce in the Gulf and adjacent to Somalia. We should give great consideration to attending this conference, if only with observer status, into the future, given our participation in these two engagements. The Senate should take note of what I think is quite a significant report from an important delegation.

Question agreed to.