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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 2017–18 were coordinated by the International and Parliamentary Relations Office (IPRO) and the Parliamentary Skills Centre (PSC), with input from all four parliamentary departments. IPRO manages incoming and outgoing delegation programs, membership of inter-parliamentary organisations, and the international interests and travel of senators and members. 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 and PSC are offices administered by the Department of the House of Representatives, and IPRO is funded jointly by the Department of the Senate and the Department of the House of Representatives.

Parliamentary engagement

During 2017–18, IPRO coordinated 24 official overseas delegation programs, which involved visits to 35 countries; attendance at seven assemblies, conferences, workshops and seminars; and other visits, including Presiding Officer visits. There were three official visits to Australia by parliamentary delegations from other countries as guests of the Australian Parliament, and 32 other visits, including for a range of capacity building activities.

A regional focus was maintained in the visits programs. Of the 35 visits to Australia, 13 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 24 overseas visits, eight were to countries in Asia or Oceania.

The Australian Parliament’s participation in MIKTA (Mexico, Indonesia, the Republic of Korea, Turkey and Australia) continued, with the President of the Senate attending the third annual Speakers’ Consultation in Istanbul, Turkey, in October 2017.

Parliamentary cooperation

The Australian Parliament maintained its strong commitment to regional and international parliamentary cooperation in 2017–18. Delegations attended Inter-Parliamentary Union assemblies; the United Nations General Assembly; the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly; the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Parliamentary Assembly; and the Asia Pacific Parliamentary Forum.

In June 2017 the Presiding Officers convened a meeting of all interested senators and members which agreed that the Parliament should apply to reconstitute the Commonwealth of Australia branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA). The Parliament’s branch had withdrawn from the CPA in 2012, owing to concerns over the governance arrangements and financial accountability of the CPA. Noting that progress had been made to address the Parliament’s concerns, senators and members in attendance unanimously agreed to apply to reconstitute the branch. The decision to readmit the branch was ratified by the CPA General Assembly, which met in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on 7 November 2017. The branch formally rejoined the CPA with effect from 1 January 2018. Since rejoining the CPA, the branch has met, adopted rules to govern its operations and elected an executive committee.

Parliamentary strengthening

The PSC continued to coordinate activities under the Pacific Parliamentary Partnerships program and the Pacific Women’s Parliamentary Partnerships Project (PWPP), which was funded under the Australian Government’s Pacific Women Shaping Pacific Development initiative. The major focus of the Pacific Parliamentary Partnerships program during the year was work with the parliaments of Fiji and Samoa.

Support for the Parliament of Fiji was arranged in conjunction with the United Nations Development Programme. It included placements of parliamentary researchers from the Department of Parliamentary Services and the Victorian Parliament to assist with the Fiji Parliament’s budget analysis and provide mentoring support for Fiji’s parliamentary sittings.

A seminar was held in Apia, Samoa, for members and staff of the Samoan Legislative Assembly on the topics of parliamentary privilege, procedure and ethics. This was conducted with the help of a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Ms Anna Burke.

The Samoa project concluded in 2017, whereas the Fiji program was extended until January 2020.

During the year, the major activities of the PWPP involved organising the fifth PWPP forum in Honiara, Solomon Islands, and facilitating research scholarships for parliamentary officers from the Autonomous Region of Bougainville (Papua New Guinea), Fiji and Samoa. Feedback on the project and the forum in Honiara was positive. The PWPP concluded at the end of 2017.

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 India, Kenya, Myanmar and the Philippines.

Feedback from participants on the study visit programs was consistently positive. In addition, the annual Inter-Parliamentary Study Program was conducted for senior parliamentary staff, with 15 participants from overseas parliaments including Brazil, China, India, Morocco, Nepal and Vietnam. There were also two participants from the Victorian and Northern Territory parliaments, which are in twinning arrangements with two of the Pacific participants: Fiji and Niue.