Mar 24, 2003

Delegation Reports; Parliamentary Delegation to the United Kingdom and the Nethe

DELEGATION REPORTS: Parliamentary Delegation to the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, 18 to 29 November 2002

24 March 2003

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (12.55 p.m.) —I am very pleased to be able to speak in this debate after the leader of the delegation, the member for Wannon. I begin by congratulating him on the way he led the delegation, which was as professional as the way he runs the economics committee of this House, which I am also on. There are a number of other people I want to thank. Firstly, I would like to thank Mr Paul Jackson and Mr Andrew Pearson, who were from the UK branch of the CPA and who looked after us. Mr Michael L’Estrange, the High Commissioner to the United Kingdom, gave us an excellent briefing at the beginning of the delegation visit, which really helped shape the way the program took place. In the Netherlands we were looked after by Wilma Kooijman from the Dutch parliament. Our Ambassador to the Netherlands, Peter Hussin, also played a critical role—in fact, we were fortunate that he was visiting Australia prior to our delegation, so we were able to have dinner at the Dutch embassy here. I thank both our Ambassador to the Netherlands and the Dutch Ambassador to Australia for assisting the delegation.

I want to make just a few brief comments. Firstly, during the UK part of the delegation one of the interesting meetings we had was with Baroness Symons, Minister of State for Trade and Investment. The context of that discussion was an early build-up regarding the Iraq situation. At that stage the UK was very strongly putting the view that the UN was the key. It is a few months since then, and I think it is unfortunate that at the moment it is not the United Nations that is playing a critical role in events on the other side of the world.

While I was in the UK, I was also particularly interested in having a look at the so-called New Deal programs with regard to welfare reform there. Some of those programs have been extremely successful in turning around long-term unemployment rates, particularly in cities of the old economy and old mining towns, giving people hope. Many of those New Deal programs are based on Labor’s Working Nation programs of the mid-nineties. As well as the formal parts of delegation programs, one of the really positive things about these delegations is that people are able to have meetings on their particular areas of interest. Those meetings were very productive and successful.

In the Netherlands it was particularly interesting because we were there when an election had been called. There had been a government made up of a centre right alliance, including members of Pim Fortuyn’s Lijst. Some analogy—although not a direct one—can be drawn between the rise of that party and the rise of One Nation here in Australia, in that Lijst was a political party that particularly emphasised immigration and ran a pretty hardline anti-refugee agenda. It is interesting that what everyone thought would happen in the election on 22 January did not occur. In fact, the mainstream parties of the centre left and the centre right both had considerable increases in their vote. When the extremists in Pim Fortuyn’s Lijst actually had to serve in a government, it fell apart. So, whatever our weaknesses are in terms of mainstream political parties, I think there are lessons to be learnt there.

It was also interesting to look at the liberal approach that the Netherlands has to drug rehabilitation, stem cell research and voluntary euthanasia. In a delegation containing two people as diverse as Senator Heffernan and me, there were interesting discussions but, nonetheless, we all got on. We had quite considerable debate, and the Netherlands parliament was certainly exposed to the diverse views in the Australian parliament. I also found it interesting to look at Schiphol Airport and the noise amelioration programs that have occurred there. They are very relevant to me, as the member representing people closest to aircraft noise at Sydney airport. I want to finish by saying that, when the world is engaged in this action, it is positive that the European Union represents a more collective approach to political governance. (Time expired)