To go to Israel as a Catholic and also as someone from a significant population that are concerned about what is going on in Palestine was an incredible opportunity. We went to the Aida UNRWA refugee camp—an incredible area of just 0.71 square kilometres which houses 4,700 refugees. It is obviously incredibly overcrowded. To stand on the roof of one of the schools and look down at the walls separating this community and separating houses from their farms was quite a moving experience.
Mr PERRETT (Moreton) (10:40): I present the report of the Australian Parliamentary Delegation to the European Parliament and Institutions and Bilateral Visit to Israel, undertaken from 20 April to 4 May 2012. I seek leave to make a statement.
Mr PERRETT: The delegation was led by the President of the Senate, Senator the Hon. John Hogg, who has sadly since announced his retirement. He did great service to the parliament on this delegation and since he was elected. He was accompanied by Senator Ian Macdonald, Senator Bridget McKenzie and from the House of Representatives the member for McMillan, Russell Broadbent MP; the member for Robertson, Deb O’Neil, who will speak next; and me.
Parliamentary delegations are an important part of building inter-parliamentary relationships. The opportunity to meet with parliamentary counterparts in the European parliament in Brussels and the Belgian and French senates and continue the already well established parliamentary dialogue led to a frank and good humoured dialogue that benefitted all participants. At the European parliament, the delegation met with the President of the Parliament and participated in the 35th Australian-European Union inter-parliamentary meeting. President Shulz expressed a strong desire to visit Australia during his term as president and the delegation noted that the Australian parliament would welcome such a visit.
The Australian-EU parliamentary meeting has been occurring since 1981 and is the focal point for the relationship between Australia and the European parliament. The report outlines the discussions held at this meeting, and hopefully we will soon be able to return the excellent hospitality that this delegation was offered while in Israel. One of the most memorable moments for me was going to the Tyne Cot cemetery and a service where Brendan Nelson spoke in front of the cross of sacrifice. It was probably one of the coldest mornings I have ever experienced in my life, but to do that on Anzac Day was certainly a very moving experience.
It was also great to see Australians all around the world doing great things. We went to the Nuclear Energy Agency and met with Mr Ron Cameron and his colleague Dr Ted Lazo. It was great to see Australians, especially after the Fukushima disaster, doing great things in monitoring nuclear controls.
To go to Israel as a Catholic and also as someone from a significant population that are concerned about what is going on in Palestine was an incredible opportunity. We went to the Aida UNRWA refugee camp—an incredible area of just 0.71 square kilometres which houses 4,700 refugees. It is obviously incredibly overcrowded. To stand on the roof of one of the schools and look down at the walls separating this community and separating houses from their farms was quite a moving experience. To go to a classroom with the boys was also an incredible opportunity. I particularly thank David Hutton, the deputy director from the West Bank UNRWA, and all the staff at the Aida camp for the time they spent with us.
Particularly as a Catholic, to go to the Church of the Nativity and to meet with Dr Victor Batarseh, the Mayor of Bethlehem, and the church leaders was quite an experience. We also met with the Palestine Monetary Authority and Dr Ghassan Khatib, the director of the Palestinian Government Media Centre, to hear about the history, the future, the hopes, the dreams and the challenges facing that community, which was quite an experience. We were honoured to be able to represent the Australian parliament on this important delegation and I commend the report to the House.