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Inter-parliamentary relations and capacity-building

The Australian Parliament’s international program focuses on strengthening engagement and cooperation with parliaments internationally, with an emphasis on parliamentary relations with countries in the Asia–Pacific region.

The program’s activities and projects in 2018–19 were coordinated by the IPRO and the PSC, with input from all four parliamentary departments. IPRO and the PSC are offices administered by the department, and IPRO receives some funding from the Department of the Senate.

IPRO manages incoming and outgoing delegation programs, membership of international parliamentary organisations, and the international interests and travel of members and senators. The PSC is responsible for all parliamentary strengthening and capacity-building programs of the Australian Parliament, including study programs for visiting parliamentarians and staff of other parliaments.

IPRO administers parliamentary regional networks and parliamentary country groups, as established under the auspices of the Australian National Group of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. It also administers the parliament’s non-country friendship groups.

Information security issues remain a concern for international parliamentary travel and IPRO continues to facilitate the provision of security advice to members and senators travelling overseas as part of official delegations, and also for travel undertaken by parliamentarians in a private capacity.

In 2018–19 the budget allocation for this activity was $1.297 million and expenditure was $1.527 million. Results against performance criteria are summarised in the annual performance statement (page 21); staff levels are shown in Table 11.

Performance summary

A comprehensive program of incoming and outgoing visits during the year strengthened bilateral relations with a wide range of national parliaments of other countries. Activity declined in the first half of 2019 due to the prorogation of parliament and dissolution of the House prior to the general election. The Australian Parliament continued to support the capacity-building of parliaments in the region, and played an active role in parliamentary associations to which it belongs.

Parliamentary engagement

During 2018–19, IPRO coordinated 23 official overseas delegation programs, which involved visits by a total of 59 delegates to 21 countries; attendance at 11 assemblies, conferences, workshops and seminars; and other visits, including Presiding Officer visits (see Appendix 7). There were also 33 visits to Australia from other countries: five hosted visits by parliamentary delegations (see Appendix 5); and 28 other visits, including for a range of capacity-building activities (see Appendixes 6 and 8).

A regional focus was maintained in the visit programs. Of the 33 visits to Australia, 20 were from parliaments in the Asia–Pacific region, including the annual visit by a combined delegation from Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries. Of the 23 overseas visits, 11 were to countries in Asia or Oceania. The annual committee exchange with New Zealand continued with the Social Services and Community Committee of the New Zealand parliament visiting to develop the committee’s understanding of Australia’s service delivery for children and families experiencing deprivation and homelessness.

The Australian Parliament’s participation in MIKTA (Mexico, Indonesia, the Republic of Korea, Turkey and Australia) continued, with the Deputy President of the Senate attending the fourth annual Speakers’ Consultation in Bali, Indonesia, in September 2018.

During the reporting period, the Australian Parliament welcomed visits by a number of Presiding Officers, including Hon Habib El Malki, Speaker of the House of Representatives of the parliament of Morocco; Hon Dato’ Mohamad Ariff bin Md Yusof, Speaker of the House of Representatives of the parliament of Malaysia; Senator Reinaldo Pared Pérez, President of the Senate of the Dominican Republic; and Mr Michael Müller, President of the German Bundesrat. Other high-level visits included Mr Hirotaka Akamatsu, Vice Speaker of the House of Representatives of the parliament of Japan; and members of the Saudi–Australia Friendship Committee.

Presiding Officers and the Clerk of the House with members of the delegation from the parliament of Malaysia. Image: Penny Bradfield, Auspic/DPS.

The work of incoming and outgoing parliamentary delegations continued to be promoted through the Parliament of Australia website with publication of short articles.

Outgoing and incoming delegations gave positive feedback on the quality of the programs, both at debrief meetings and through correspondence. For example, the Speaker of Morocco expressed his ‘deep appreciation and special thanks for the high sense of hospitality and organisation’ for his visit program.

Use of an online survey (introduced in 2017–18) continued to provide opportunities for feedback from members of incoming and outgoing delegations. The survey seeks to gauge the level of satisfaction with the arrangements made by IPRO and to provide delegates with an opportunity to make suggestions for improvements. All delegation members are emailed a link to the survey. All survey respondents for outgoing delegations indicated that they were either ‘satisfied’ or ‘highly satisfied’ with the arrangements made by IPRO, and all survey respondents for incoming delegations were either ‘highly satisfied’ or ‘satisfied’ with logistical and program arrangements.

Parliamentary cooperation

The Australian Parliament maintained its strong commitment to regional and international parliamentary cooperation in 2018–19. Delegations attended the Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly; the United Nations General Assembly; the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly; and the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum (for more detail, see Appendix 7).

After formally re-joining the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) in January 2018, the parliament was represented at the 37th CPA Australia and Pacific Regional Conference held in the Cook Islands. In July, IPRO resumed responsibility for providing the secretariat to support the CPA Australia Region and the Australia Region Steering Committee of Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians.

Parliamentary strengthening

The PSC has responsibility for coordinating the parliament’s capacity-building activities. With the generous support of members, senators, former members and colleagues from throughout the parliamentary service, as well as some state and territory parliaments, the centre facilitates the Australian Parliament’s capacity-building and parliamentary strengthening activities with the parliaments of Pacific island nations and other countries.

The PSC continued to coordinate activities under the Pacific Parliamentary Partnerships (PPP) program with the provision of equipment to Bougainville, Fiji, Kiribati and Tonga under the PPP Fund.

Support was provided to the parliaments of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) with participating research officers from the Parliamentary Budget Office, Parliamentary Library and Department of the Senate. In each of these missions, the researchers from the Australian Parliament joined a group of researchers to work with the local secretariats to support the drafting of budget materials for parliamentarians.

Departmental staff and colleagues from all parliamentary departments, with coordination by the PSC, contributed to study programs for visiting members and staff of numerous overseas parliaments including Ghana, India, Japan and Timor-Leste. Feedback from participants on the study visit programs was consistently positive.

Following two study visits by groups of senior officers from the Lok Sabha (lower house of the parliament of India) to the Australian Parliament in 2017 and 2018, four senior officers of the department travelled to New Delhi to undertake a study visit program at the Lok Sabha. The program provided staff with a comprehensive overview of Indian parliamentary procedure, administration and operations, with a particular focus on the Lok Sabha, and the support services provided by the secretariat.

The annual Inter-Parliamentary Study Program was conducted for senior parliamentary staff, with 16 participants from overseas parliaments including that of China, Fiji, Ireland, Malaysia, Sweden and Timor-Leste, and the European Parliament. Among the consistently positive appraisals of the program, one participant spoke highly of the ‘nature of the program, its learning methodology and practical experience it provided’.

PHoto of the Clerks of the House and the Senate with program participants.
Clerk of the House, David Elder, and Clerk of the Senate, Richard Pye, with participants in the Inter-Parliamentary Study Program. Image: Department of the House of Representatives

In November 2018, an Inter-Parliamentary Study Program for Speakers of Pacific parliaments was held at the Australian Parliament. Seven participants from across the region benefited from a unique professional development and networking opportunity with their peers, and from a program that involved input from the Presiding Officers, former Speakers the Hon David Hawker AO and Mr Harry Jenkins AO, and senior officers from the department. The program built on the momentum and feedback gained from the inaugural Inter- Parliamentary Study Program conducted for Pacific Deputy Speakers held in November 2017.

Following Malaysia’s general election in May 2018, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade sought the assistance of the Australian Parliament in supporting its parliamentary reform agenda. IPRO coordinated a study visit on 17–21 September 2018 for a delegation of parliamentarians and officials led by the Speaker of the Malaysian House of Representatives.

Hon Dato’ Mohamad Ariff bin Md Yusof, and including Hon Dato’ Haji Mohd Rashid bin Hasnon MP (Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives), Hon Datuk Seri Dr Ronald Kiandee MP (chair of the Public Accounts Committee) and Hon Dato’ Dr Norainibinti Ahmad MP (international chair of Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians). The success of this visit program contributed to an increased number of exchanges between the parliaments by members and staff alike.

Speaker, the Hon Tony Smith MP, former Speakers the Hon David Hawker AO and Mr Harry Jenkins AO, and Clerk Mr David Elder with participants in the Inter-Parliamentary Study Program for Speakers of Pacific parliaments.

Improving performance

The streamlined approval process for all overseas delegation travel by the Presiding Officers, made possible by the Parliamentary Business Resources Regulations 2017, continues to allow flexibility and agility in the strategic management and forward planning of the international program. The co-location of IPRO and the PSC also continued to allow for greater knowledge-sharing between the offices, and efficiencies in the coordination of the international program through the sharing of resources.

Delegation members continue to make use of the online delegation portal (where appropriate), as a secure and effective way to electronically access visit information and written briefs in a timely manner, both before and during official visits. Work has begun to improve the interface of the delegation portal to improve and increase usability by parliamentarians. Delegates’ responses lodged via the online survey platform are helping IPRO to refine its processes.

Information security for delegation members remains a priority, and the office will continue to work with DPS and other departments to ensure delegation members are advised of any issues before going on delegations and are provided with appropriate devices for the destinations.

Outlook

The year ahead will see a resumption of incoming and outgoing delegations working towards the middle year of a parliament and what is traditionally the busiest period for the office.

Activities associated with the parliament’s membership of the CPA and Inter-Parliamentary Union will continue and are likely to increase with the commencement of the Forty-sixth Parliament.

Parliamentary strengthening programs administered through the PSC will remain a priority area for the international program.

The Australian Parliament largely relies on funding from government or other sources, such as the UNDP and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, to support much of its parliamentary strengthening work with other parliaments. The PSC will continue to respond to invitations to the Australian Parliament to collaborate on parliamentary strengthening, giving due consideration to the limited resources available for such work.

The Clerk presents to members of a delegation from the parliament of Malaysia. Image: Penny Bradfield, Auspic/DPS.