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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 12 Hansard (20 November) . . Page.. 4456 ..

Australia-Iraq relations

MR PRATT (5.36): Mr Speaker, I rise to comment about the meeting at the Canberra Club on 3 November of the Australian-Iraqi Friendship Society. The government sponsored the meeting and the Chief Minister and departmental officers participated in it. I was very interested in attending that forum and I went along to it. As I say, it was called by the government and the AIFS to discuss how the Canberra community might be able to assist Iraq in its hour of need.

Having served in Iraq and having fond memories of Iraqis, Arab and Kurd, I had hoped that the meeting would be useful and would discuss practical ways in which this community might offer assistance. I disagree strongly with this government's actions in seeking to organise a sister city relationship with Baghdad at this time or in the medium term. I think it could be arranged and would be a useful relationship to be considered later in 2004 if and when things settle down. I am on record in this place as having publicly spelt out my reasons.

I believe that his government should be moving now to establish instead a more urgent relationship with Dili. I believe that this government and this community should be focusing all of their energies on doing just that. It takes all of the energies and resources of the community to successfully organise and establish a relationship of this magnitude. I believe that you should focus on these things one at a time.

I think that Mr Stanhope's call for a Baghdad relationship is highly impractical at this time. Any sensible analyst or, indeed, any sensible lay person would attest to that. As I was saying, I think that we can go down that track after July 2004 with an Iraqi provisional government, if the American plans go according to the script. After there is some sort of stability and organisation in the country, we ought to be talking to the society to see what we can crank up in Baghdad. I think that Mr Stanhope's call for a Baghdad relationship is a bit of a cynical political stunt. Whilst it would be useful, I think that he is using that vehicle at this time to pursue other political aims, which is quite disappointing because it does take away from the importance of the idea. Regardless of that, I think that the meeting on 3 November was, in fact, very important because we can still marshal assistance and provide assistance to Iraq before any sister city relationship is organised.

Mr Speaker, I must congratulate the Australian-Iraqi Friendship Society for running what I believe was a very good meeting. I was fairly impressed with the president and his committee and their Iraqi guest speaker, all of whom came to the podium and spoke quite eloquently about the situation in Iraq. They also presented some excellent practical ideas on how Canberran society, our institutions and certainly ACT government departments might be able to undertake collaborative activities in the form of visits when the time is right, even exchanges now, and certainly some activity sponsorships now to assist Iraqi society and its organs of government to get back on their feet.

I was fairly impressed that Mr Stanhope presented himself at that forum and, importantly, that he took with him some departmental officers to participate in that meeting. I congratulate him on taking the effort to do just that, but that is about where the

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