Inter-parliamentary relations and capacity-building

Outlook

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 2016–17 were coordinated by the International and Parliamentary Relations Office (IPRO) and the Parliamentary Skills Centre (PSC), with input from all four parliamentary departments. IPRO and the PSC are offices administered by the department, and IPRO receives part funding from the Department of the Senate.
Support for the parliament’s international program continues to be provided by IPRO and the PSC as separate offices; however, in 2016–17 the decision was made to co-locate the two offices and for them to be managed by one director. The two offices fall under the responsibility of the Clerk Assistant (Table). IPRO continues to manage incoming and outgoing delegation programs, membership of international parliamentary organisations, and the international interests and travel of members and senators. The PSC continues to be 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 manages the administration of Parliamentary Regional Networks and Parliamentary Country Groups as established under the auspices of the Inter-Parliamentary Union. In 2016–17, it also assumed responsibility for administering the parliament’s non-country Friendship Groups.

As part of the regular procedures for coordinating official outgoing delegation programs, IPRO arranges briefings for members and senators on a number of security issues, including information security. To address a growing concern over information security issues, the Presiding Officers requested IPRO to begin facilitating the provision of security advice to members and senators travelling overseas in a private capacity.

In 2016–17, the budget allocation for program activity was $2.074 million and expenditure was $1.254 million. Results against performance criteria are summarised in the annual performance statement (pages 18–19); staff levels are shown in Appendix 1.

Performance summary

A comprehensive program of incoming and outgoing visits during the year strengthened bilateral relations with several national parliaments. Due to the dissolution of both Houses of Parliament and the subsequent election, activity was lower in the second half of 2016. 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. As foreshadowed in last year’s report, 2017 saw a return to the high level of incoming and outgoing delegation activity that is typical of that period of the parliamentary cycle.

Parliamentary engagement

During 2016–17, IPRO coordinated 12 official visits overseas, including bilateral visits to 10 countries; attendance at six assemblies, conferences, workshops and seminars; and other visits, including Presiding Officer visits (see Appendix 6). There were seven official visits to Australia by parliamentary delegations from other countries as guests of the Australian Parliament (see Appendix 7) and 27 other visits (see Appendix 8), plus a range of capacity-building activities (see Appendix 9).

A regional focus was maintained in the visits programs. Nineteen of the 30 visits to Australia were from parliaments in the Asia–Pacific region, including the annual visit by a combined delegation from ASEAN countries. Four of the 12 overseas visits were to countries in Asia or Oceania.

In October 2016, the Presiding Officers hosted the second annual MIKTA (Mexico, Indonesia, the Republic of Korea, Turkey and Australia) Speakers’ Consultation in Hobart, Tasmania. The meeting was attended by more than 120 delegates from the five member countries, including Senator Ana Gabriela Guevara Espinoza, from Mexico’s Senate; Deputy Alejandra Noemí Reynoso Sánchez, from Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies; His Excellency Dr Ade Komarudin, Speaker of Indonesia’s House of Representatives;
Mr Sye-kyun Chung, Speaker of the Republic of Korea’s National Assembly; and His Excellency Mr ─░smail Kahraman, Speaker of Turkey’s Grand National Assembly. The speakers met in Hobart to consult on the topic ‘Open parliament for open government’, which generated a wide-ranging discussion on the challenges, solutions and benefits of maintaining open parliaments.

During the reporting period, the Australian Parliament hosted visits by a number of presiding officers, including His Excellency Professor Dr Norbert Lammert, Speaker of the German Bundestag; the Rt Hon David Carter MP, Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives; Ms Gabriela Michetti, Vice President of the Argentine Republic and President of the Argentine Senate; and Madam Halimah Yacob, Speaker of the Parliament of Singapore.

  

The Hon Tony Smith MP, Speaker of the House of Representatives (left) welcomes the Rt Hon David Carter MP, Speaker of the New Zealand Parliament’s House of Representatives, to the Australian Parliament in February 2017. Photo: David Foote, Auspic/DPS.

The work of incoming and outgoing parliamentary delegations continued to be promoted through the Parliament of Australia website, including publication of short articles and video interviews with delegation leaders.

Outgoing and incoming delegations gave positive feedback on the quality of the programs, both at debrief meetings and through correspondence. For example, an Australian ambassador who accompanied a visiting Presiding Officer wrote that the delegation was ‘very happy indeed with the visit and the level of access they received’. The ambassador also commented of the visit program, saying that ‘by any standard I think it was a tremendous success—in part owing to its excellent organisation’.

Parliamentary cooperation

The Australian Parliament maintained its strong commitment to regional and international parliamentary cooperation in 2016–17. However, due to the timing of the election, the parliament was not represented at some association assemblies. Nevertheless, delegations attended an Inter-Parliamentary Union assembly and the
Asia–Pacific Parliamentary Forum (for more detail, see Appendix 6).

In June 2016, IPRO coordinated a seminar at Parliament House for more than 80 members of the diplomatic community on the role and work of the Australian Parliament, committee operations, security matters and the parliament’s international program. A deputy head of a foreign mission remarked that she found the seminar ‘extremely useful’ for her work and ‘appreciated that the President of the Senate and Speaker of the House of Representatives as well as the highest ranking parliamentary officials all took time to address and enlighten us about their work’.

Parliamentary strengthening

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

The centre continued to coordinate activities under the Pacific Parliamentary Partnerships program and the Pacific Women’s Parliamentary Partnerships Project (funded under the Australian Government’s Pacific Women’s 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 and included placements of parliamentary researchers from the Department of Parliamentary Services and the Victorian Parliament to assist the Fiji Parliament’s budget analysis and provide mentoring support for Fiji’s parliamentary sittings. In October 2016, the Deputy Speaker of the Fiji Parliament, the Hon Ruveni Nadalo, visited Canberra and Melbourne for mentoring support from his Australian counterparts.

Two seminars were held in Apia for members and staff of the Samoan Legislative Assembly, on the topics of committee operations and parliamentary procedure. They were conducted with the help of two former Speakers of the House of Representatives, Ms Anna Burke and Mr Harry Jenkins AO, and senior staff from the department.

During the year, the major activities of the Pacific Women’s Parliamentary Partnerships Project involved facilitating research scholarships for parliamentary officers from Fiji and Samoa; training facilitators and making support arrangements for the learning program on gender equality, ‘The Outrigger—Navigating Gender Equality through Pacific Parliaments’; and arranging a visit for a new woman parliamentarian from Tonga to the South Australian Parliament.

Departmental staff and colleagues from all parliamentary departments, through the coordination of the PSC, contributed to study programs for visiting members and staff of a number of overseas parliaments. In March 2017, an Inter-Parliamentary Study Program was conducted for parliamentary staff, with participants from China, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Kiribati, Fiji, Samoa and Vanuatu.

Improving performance

In February 2017, amendments were made to the Parliamentary Entitlements Regulations 1997 to provide for a global budget of $250,000 per financial year for each Presiding Officer’s overseas travel, and to give the Presiding Officers the authority to formally approve the outgoing delegations program for each year. These changes streamlined the approval process for all overseas delegation travel. They enable IPRO to be more responsive to members and senators, and strategic with forward planning for outgoing delegations. The parliament also continued to benefit from the amended process for Presiding Officer approval of additional delegations introduced in the previous year.

The co-location of IPRO and the PSC has allowed for greater knowledge-sharing between the offices and efficiencies in the coordination of the international program through the sharing of common resources.

The outgoing delegation online portal continued to be utilised, where appropriate, for official outgoing delegations. The portal allows up-to-date information to be made available to delegations both prior to and during official visits.

Outlook

The year ahead will include a full program of delegation visits, with the continued implementation of the 2016–19 delegations program as approved by the Presiding Officers. In the first half of 2017–18, 15 outgoing delegations (including committee visits, a parliamentary field visit and attendance at assemblies) and five official incoming parliamentary delegations are scheduled.

Parliamentary strengthening programs administered through the PSC will remain a priority area for the international program, and initiatives and activities established under the Pacific Parliamentary Partnerships program and the Pacific Women’s Parliamentary Partnerships Project will continue to be supported. The Australian Parliament largely relies on funding from government or other sources, such as the United Nations Development Programme, to support much of its parliamentary capacity-building 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 next annual Pacific Women’s Parliamentary Partnerships Forum, to be held in Honiara, Solomon Islands, in September 2017, will be a major focus for the PSC in the year ahead. The PSC also expects to support several study programs for staff of other parliaments, and will coordinate the first Inter-Parliamentary Study Program for deputy speakers of Pacific parliaments, which will be held in November 2017.

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