Democracy strengthened by International Parliamentary Union

Published on Mon 23 October 2017 7:48pm

Mr Wilson (7:48pm) — Last week I had the honour of participating in the 137th assembly of the Inter-Parliamentary Union as a delegate from the Australian parliament in company with two colleagues from the other place, Senator Chris Ketter and Senator Ian Macdonald.

The IPU was formed in 1889 as a means through which parliamentary democracy could be strengthened and parliamentarians would have the opportunity to learn from one another and work together in the cause of shared prosperity, stability and peace. That work continued at the assembly in St Petersburg, whose theme and general debate topic was ‘promoting cultural pluralism peace through interfaith and interethnic dialogue’. Senators Ketter and MacDonald both spoke in that debate and made thoughtful contributions about Australia’s hard-won success as a multicultural nation, a place whose foundation is the oldest culture on earth and whose diversity has been and continues to be shaped through highs and lows.

It was refreshing to be part of an international forum whose starting point is the function of parliament as separate from the executive power within a healthy parliamentary democracy. The focus of the IPU on the proper and independent function of parliament was clear in a couple of key areas. There was, for example, a question raised about the fact that a delegate from Cambodia was absent through exclusion as a likely result of her outspoken opposition to the present government in her country. There was also extended consideration of the circumstances in Venezuela, where the parliament or national assembly has been improperly dissolved. Indeed, evidence of human rights violations involving parliamentarians from Cambodia, Turkey, Venezuela and the Maldives has led to calls for the IPU Committee on the Human Rights of Parliamentarians to send fact-finding missions to all four countries.

In terms of detailed work, I was glad to participate in the bureau of the Standing Committee on Sustainable Development, Finance and Trade in place of the member for Forrest, who was previously elected to that bureau but couldn’t attend on this occasion. The bureau’s discussion centred on parliamentary work to advance the pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals with an emphasis on development assistance, ocean health, and climate change resilience and mitigation. It called upon participating country delegates to do some homework on the way in which parliaments debate, track and measure progress on the SDGs, and I look forward to taking that up.

I was also grateful for the chance within that forum to speak about the Australian government’s commitment of $1 billion under the Paris climate agreement, including $200 million for the Green Climate Fund and $300 million for projects in Pacific Island nations. It was acknowledged that the forthcoming UN climate change conference in New York will be chaired by Fiji, a role for which Australia is providing specific and very welcome assistance.

On day 3 of the assembly, I participated in an interactive session on the UN process for the prohibition of nuclear weapons and took the opportunity to highlight the work of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, or ICAN, which was born in Australia and recently received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Mr Speaker, as you well know, one of the closely contested parts of the IPU Assembly is the selection of an emergency motion. In Saint Petersburg, the debate on this issue came down to two main areas of concern: the first in relation to the ongoing nuclear missile tests conducted by North Korea and the second in relation to the severe humanitarian crisis in Myanmar. On the second issue, two motions were put forward: one being a genuine attempt to call out the scale of the violence and deprivation occurring in Rakhine State, the other being an attempt by the delegation from Myanmar to somewhat muddy the waters and suggest that the circumstances involved fault and harm on all sides. However, as the leader of the UK delegation, Nigel Evans, rightly pointed out, this is not a complicated matter; it’s in fact a relatively clear matter of government complicity and neglect in the violent displacement and persecution of the Rohingya people. On that basis, and as delegates from the Australian parliament, we chose collectively to pledge our votes in full support of the emergency motions in relation to Myanmar and the DPRK’s reckless nuclear conduct. Ultimately, it was the Myanmar motion that received the most support and Australia was selected as one of the countries involved in the drafting committee to settle the final text, which was adopted.

On the final day of the assembly, delegates elected a new president, Gabriela Cuevas Barron, from Mexico. She’s only the second woman to hold that position and, at 38, also meets the definition of a young parliamentarian. The IPU is a valuable forum for promoting dialogue between parliamentarians and for working towards stronger democratic institutions and processes. Australia’s participation is well received and welcome, and it reflects well on the work of former delegates, which I acknowledge and which I hope to continue.

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