Senate debates

Monday, 3 March 2014

Delegation Reports

Parliamentary Delegation to Mexico

5:16 pm

Photo of Deborah O'NeillDeborah O'Neill (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I present the report of the Australian parliamentary delegation to the 22nd annual meeting of the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum held in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, from 12 January to 16 January 2014. I seek leave to move a motion in relation to the report.

Leave granted.

I move:

That the Senate take note of the document.

This was an amazing event. It is the first time I have had the opportunity to attend a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum. It was the 22nd occasion on which the forum has met. The forum was hosted by Mexico in Puerto Vallarta, where all the participating Asia-Pacific nations gathered together. In our consideration of critical matters of importance to the entire region, we were led by the President of the Senate of Mexico, Senator Raul Cervantes Andrade. We moved very quickly into experiencing the Mexicans' hospitality, which particularly centred on their celebration of culture. The states across the great country of Mexico have an incredible variety of traditions which are represented in different forms of music and dance, variations in the language and different cultural practices. At the end of every day throughout our time in Puerto Vallarta we were treated to an incredible display by the Mexican community, who showed great pride in their wonderful history and cultural depth. Family is so important to Australians, and we got a sense of how important family was to the people of Mexico and how much they cared about and responded to their communities.

The work of the annual meeting of the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum was chaired by Senator Teofilo Torres Corzo. The parliamentary forum traversed three main areas: firstly, political and security matters; secondly, economic and trade matters; and, thirdly, regional cooperation in the Asia-Pacific. Much discussion was had around those three areas, with a fantastic range of resolutions put to the forum. The objectives that each of these areas was seeking to cover were declared in 1993 in Tokyo. They are important, particularly in light of current foreign affairs concerns about Russia, one of the participating countries. Identifying and discussing matters of common concern and interest in order to highlight them in a global context provided a foundation on which parliament-to-parliament relationships were made. At times like this, when we sense there is great tension and a crisis that will hopefully be averted, conversations between people who have shared a meal and some common understanding can become important in building the bridges needed to jointly pursue peace. Forums like this are important because they help to deepen the understanding of the policy concerns of participating members. A critical examination of political, social and cultural developments enables discussion of economic growth and integration to encourage and promote the whole region. National parliamentarians can work with one another in expressing those interests and finding ways to achieve great outcomes.

The Australian delegation was very active. Of the 41 draft resolutions proposed by 10 countries, Australia submitted six. I am very happy to say that the resolutions we put forward were adopted at the close of the forum. Those resolutions were in the areas of strengthening peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region; combatting terrorism, drug trafficking and organised crime; trade and economic cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region; cooperation in facing climate change; strengthening social cohesion and the participation of youth in development; and promoting cooperation in education, culture, science and technology in the Asia-Pacific region.

I want to acknowledge my colleagues from the Australian federal parliament with whom I travelled. I can very proudly say that, in a context where our divisions are usually much more noted than our consensus, it was a team Australia delegation; we worked particularly well together as a team. The delegation was led by the Hon. Bronwyn Bishop, Speaker of the House, and included Mr Stephen Jones, member for Throsby; the Hon. Philip Ruddock, member for Berowra; Mr Mark Coulton, member for Parkes; and me. We were also assisted by Mr Damien Jones, adviser to the Speaker, and brilliantly supported by Ms Robyn McLelland, our delegation secretary and Serjeant-at-Arms in the other place.

Brazil was a very interesting place in which to hold this program, for us to learn so much more about it and to gather and to receive such support from the hosting community. The delegation also took the opportunity to engage in a bilateral program in Mexico City, where we really worked in the areas of understanding development with regard to agricultural production, matters of security and also the area of economic and trade matters.

Mexico City is a phenomenally interesting place geographically. It is in the middle of the lake, and one of the things we saw was the decay of infrastructure as slippage happened. One layer of temple was built over another and another. The reality is, though, that it is a thriving city and it is the major city of the 14th largest economy in the world. Mexico has a population of 118 million people.

In that great economy, one of the truly amazing things that they are doing is continuing the work of a Nobel Peace Prize winner from 1970 by the name of Dr Norman Borlaug. This is of great interest to Australian farmers. Indeed, Mark Coulton who was with us, found out that he was actually farming wheat that come from CIMMYT, which is the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre. The delegation was advised that this year will be Dr Borlaug's 100th birthday in March 2014; there will be an amazing recognition of his contribution to the health and well-being of millions, dare I say billions, of people on this planet through providing much more resilient forms of wheat and maize. This work continues.

I am pleased to let the Senate know that CIMMYT is opening an office in Indonesia this year and it is going to serve as a regional hub for Southeast Asia, particularly with the development and the deployment of stress tolerant, drought tolerant and nutritionally-enriched maize hybrids in Indonesia—that is the focus there. That is the kind of work that they do.

With regard to security issues, we were treated to a delegation of local experts who gave us incredible insights into the challenges and responses that are now occurring in the area of security—drug trade, arms trade and those sorts of issues—and the success that they are achieving. We also had a fantastic meeting with a delightful and erudite group of respected economic analysts and leading business people—Ambassador Andres Rozental, Valentin Diez Morodo and Roberto Newell Garcia—who gave us insights into some of the challenges and opportunities that are available to Australian companies over in Mexico.

We developed a deeper understanding of not only potential opportunities to deepen trade but also barriers to trade and investment. I do want to put on the record a very important point that they made, which was the difficulty of securing Australian visas for business people seeking to come on frequent visits to Australia. I think this was noted by the Speaker and I hope that there will be a response coming forthwith to ensure that important trade can continue.

Can I take the opportunity in this final moment to acknowledge the great work in terms of support that we were offered by DFAT, who provided us with a wonderful brief before we went and support throughout the actual forum held in Puerto Vallarta. Can I acknowledge also the kind welcome and great work in preparation for the visit by His Excellency, Mr Tim George, who was more than ably supported by Mr William Blomfield, the deputy head of mission. I would also like to acknowledge Her Excellency, Mrs Beatriz Lopez Gargallo, who met with us before we left. She is the Mexican ambassador here in Canberra.

Overall, I would say that the outcomes of building relationships across the great distances that divide us were certainly enabled by this parliamentary program. Australia's contributions were noted and we continue that conversation annually. I commend the report to the house.

Question agreed to.