Page 3427 - Week 11 - Wednesday, 23 September 2015

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In November 2014 Canberra received a gift of a traditional Chinese garden from the Beijing municipal government. It is located at Lennox Gardens and was a Canberra centenary gift. It was opened by the Chinese ambassador, Ma Zhaoxu, and the former Chief Minister, Katy Gallagher.

The China free trade agreement was signed on 17 June 2015 in Canberra by Australian Minister for Trade and Investment, Andrew Robb AO, MP, and the Chinese commerce minister, Mr Gao Hucheng. The agreement lays a historic foundation for the next phase of Australia’s economic relationship with China. The benefits to our community are not just trade related; we as a community benefit greatly from the many Chinese who call Canberra home. We benefit from those who have brought their skills and expertise to this city and are building their lives and raising their families here. I commend this motion to the Assembly.

MR RATTENBURY (Molonglo) (3.48): I welcome Mr Smyth’s bringing this motion on for discussion today. The Canberra-Beijing sister city relationship has now been in place for 15 years, as has been noted. Over the past 15 years, cultural and tourism relationships have been put in place and have been developed.

I am firm believer that engagement is a positive thing, and today we have heard some of the stories, some of the practical outcomes, that have flowed from the signing of that relationship agreement. Engagement is a source of dialogue and good relationships. It helps communities and people understand each other and it helps break down prejudices and misunderstanding. It also provides a space to discuss opportunities for working together to achieve common objectives.

There are certainly positive relationships that have been built as a result of our sister city relationship—business relationships and the promotion of education services. We have the Beijing garden at Lennox Gardens as a gift from Canberra’s sister city; that has been completed in recent times. Anyone who has had a chance to get out and look at it would have appreciated how stunning it is. If anyone has not, I encourage you to go. As the weather gets a bit warmer, it will be a lovely place to sit and contemplate life.

I note that one of the key events that have come about as a result of the sister city relationship was the hosting of the torch relay for the Beijing Olympics. Canberra was the only city in Australia to host a leg of the relay; I suspect that reflects the value of having the sister city relationship.

I think only those with short memories would forget that while there were celebrations and festivities around the torch relay, there were also significant tensions as people took the opportunity to remind China of their concerns about human rights issues. Those issues continue to be of concern to many Australian and Canberra residents—China’s treatment of the Falun Gong people and the ongoing difficulties in the relationship with the people of Tibet. While I think we all value the role that sister city relationships can play, it is always important to remember that those relationships do not prevent us from allowing the expression of our concerns to each other. A strong and good relationship will enable us to build common connections and celebrate things together, but also raise issues of concern and issues that are difficult. A robust relationship will allow us to have those conversations.

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