Close run in CPA Chairperson election

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It was a close run in the CPA chairperson election on Thursday in Cameroon.  The candidates Dr. Shirin Chaudhury, Speaker of the Bangaldesh Parliament, and Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, Speaker of the Caymans Island Legislative Assembly, both gave speeches which detailed their credentials and their vision for CPA.  Voting was by secret ballot with 137 valid ballots and 1 spoiled ballot.  With 70 to 67 votes Dr. Chaudhury was declared elected.

There was a heated debate about the CPA constitution with passionate speeches for and against a proposed amendment.  This episode reflected the tension between parliamentarians who see CPA as a continuing professional development organisation and those who want it to become an international advocacy organisation.  After this difficult debate the beautiful voices of the University of Buea choir sang of peace and harmony.

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The final presentation was by Pakistan who will be hosting the 61st CPA conference in Islamabad in 2015.

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CPA workshops

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The first workshop I attended on Wednesday was “Unity in Diversity: the Role of Parliament”. The discussion leaders from Cameroon were two academics and two parliamentarians who described how Cameroon had achieved unity with a diverse population. The constant political push for unity was emphasised by former President who constantly used unity in his speeches. Prof. Jean-Emmanuel Pandi described how the German, French and English colonial past overlayed a mosaic of many African languages along with multiple religions including Christianity, Islam and Animism. The preamble to the Cameroon constitution celebrates diversity and promotes unity according to Social Democratic Front legal adviser Joseph Mbah-Ndam MP. He said that ‘unity doesn’t mean uniformity’. Mary Meboka MP talked about the practicalities of delivering unity within a decentralised state, two official languages and both French and English legal systems.
Questions asked by delegates focused on the two official languages and why no African language was similarily acknowledged. The answer was that language diversity was respected and encouraged with most Cameroonians speaking 3 or more languages. Crispin Hunt MP, UK, asked about how the protection of human rights included same sex relationships. The answer was that there was a very strong intolerance of same sex relationships in many African countries who did not view this within a human rights context.
The second workshop examined financial oversight in Westminster and Francophone parliaments. Marc Tanguay MNA (Quebec) talked about the need to build and maintain trust by the people in Government and that good communication about the financial oversight processes and outcomes is essential. Prof. Rick Stapendhurst described the French system as having a stronger mandate and Westminster as having more robust activities. Thomas Docherty MP (UK) recommended proper training for parliamentarians in conducting an enquiry, they need to be well prepared and well resourced. My question to Prof. Stapendhurst was “did he recommend amalgamation of estimates and public accounts committees?” He agreed that this was his conclusion.

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Cameroon President Paul Biya speech to CPA

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Monday’s conference session was held at the Yaounde convention centre and delegates were greeted by a host of dancers.

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Inside the hall the University of Buea choir provided excellent entertainment which inspired South African delegates to dance and sing along.

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The President of Cameroon, Paul Biya, addressed the CPA conference. Most speeches on the day were in English but President Biya spoke in French. Cameroon is a bilingual country with eight Francophone and two Anglophone province, a product of Cameroon’s colonial history. We were well equipped with wireless headphones that provided an English translation of the President’s speech. President Biya noted the considerable threat from ebola as well as hotspots of violence around the world. The millennium development goals and the repositioning of the Commonwealth for the post 2015 development agenda were major topics in his speech. The President said there can be no development without security and listed the millennium goals that will not be achieved by 2015 including unemployment and hunger. He said that good progress had been achieved in education, immunisation, HIV and malaria. More solidarity is needed for development and the African nations propose re-alignment of the development agenda with international programs to eradicate poverty, promote peace and sustainable development.

The newly elected Secretary-General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), Martin Chungong, talked about the role of women in policy development and building better communities. He said that the Commonwealth should no longer be a “Gentleman’s club” but a “Gentleperson’s club”. This point was highlighted by Rebecca Kadaga, Speaker of the Ugandan Parliament, who congratulated Cameroonians on their 2013 election results which had lifted the number in parliament from 14% to 31%.

During the plenary session after lunch I raised the representation in Parliaments of Indigenous minorities in post-colonial societies. For example in Australia our 10 parliaments have 830 members but only 11 are Indigenous. Martin Chungong gave a clear response on behalf of the IPU, unfortunately there was no CPA response. This was disappointing and a matter which I will pursue.  I was interviewed by Cameroon TV about the CPA conference and the role of good governance in supporting the millenium goals; and they wanted a comment in French!

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Of course no conference is without the big group photo seen here on the steps of the convention centre.

 

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The Speaker of the National Assembly of Cameroon, Cavaye Yeguie Djibril, opening the 34th Small Branches Conference yesterday, told delegates that Cameroon joined the Commonwealth in 1995 to support human rights, parliamentary democracy, rule of law and good governance.

Hazelhurst Sir Alan Hazelhurst, CPA Chairperson, reminded delegates that the real value of the CPA was the opportunity to discuss issues with colleagues from across the world particularly from small parliaments.

The CPA has 43 small branches – parliaments with a population of less than 500,000 - including the Maldives, Jersey, Malta, Dominica, Northern Territory, St Kitts & Nevis, Norfolk Island, Isle of Man, St Helena, Gibraltar, North West Territories (Canada) and the ACT.

Two discussion forums were held by the small branches yesterday:
- the importance of education for small state resilience, and
- the role of Parliaments in supporting the vulnerable.

The discussion on these broad topics was wide-ranging and illustrated both differences and commonalities between jurisdictions.  One interesting point was that several small parliaments do not have political parties, effectively all members act as independents.  This seemed to be a characteristic of the smaller, both population and geographically, branches.

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I provided an ACT perspective talking about my time as Education Minister when the Gonski review of school funding was released. I was immediately able to gather all the ACT education stakeholders – Government, Catholic and Independent schools, unions, parent organisations, community groups, and universities – to a round table meeting to discuss the review, provide information and form collective support for a consistent position. This rapid response was evidence of a strategic advantage for small jurisdictions.  I also talked about the ACT Government work on supporting vulnerable families with a whole of government approach and devolving decision making to front-line workers and my opinion that this would have a long-term benefit in reducing incarceration of those many men who have disengaged from education at a very young age due to extreme disruption in their home.

Roger Phillips & Juan Watterson - Isle of Man delegation

Roger Phillips & Juan Watterson – Isle of Man

I took the opportunity for informal discussions with delegates including learning how the Isle of Man had begun insourcing Hansard to Gibraltar, Guernsey and Alderney with significant cost savings to these parliaments.  We discussed other opportunities including parliamentary websites and libraries .

Charles Charles Chauvel is a former New Zealand MP and current adviser to the UN Development Programme on democratic governance.  He is a strong advocate for diversity in parliamentary representation and we discussed my views about the potential for affirmative action within political parties to increase Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander representation in Australian parliaments.

I also had a wide ranging talk with the speaker of the Parliament of Maldives, Maseeh Mohammed, about subcontinent issues including Indian PM Modi and the possibility for reform. Maseeh is an Australian postgraduate with a masters degree in international developement and we were able to compare the Maldives, which has a population of over 300,000 spread across a thousand islands, with remote Australia in terms of service delivery, community infrastructure and social cohesion.

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Death of CPA Secretary-General

News that Dr William Shija, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), had died this morning postponed the start of the opening ceremony for the 34th Small Branches Conference scheduled to preceed the 60th CPA  Conference here in Yaounde, Cameroon.  Dr Shija, a former Tanzanian politician and minister, had held the CPA Secretary-General position for the last 8 years.  He was very popular with the CPA secretariat who are shocked by his sudden death.

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Monash South Africa

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My visit to Monash South Africa yesterday was an opportunity to see the outcomes from an Australian university’s extablishment of an overseas campus and the subsequent alliance with Laureate International.  Monash South Africa was established in 2001 about 30 minutes by car from the centre of Johannesburg and currently has 4000 students.

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Esther Benjamin and Chris Bourke

I met with CEO Esther Benjamin and discussed Monash South Africa’s objectives for growth and development in South Africa.  Esther has an extensive background in international development having worked in both the Clinton and Obama administrations; her previous appointment was managing US Peace Corps programs in over 80 countries.   I also met with Professor Alwyn Louw, Academic President, who reiterated that Monash South Africa’s objective of national development is embedded within the recently redeveloped undergraduate graduate curricula in Health Sciences, Business, IT and Social Sciences.  We talked about their foundation program for students who do not meet the usual entry requirements for entry to an undergraduate course and that this was a similar strategy used by Australian Universities – particularly in Indigenous tertiary education.

Monash South Africa was hosting the  “Engaged Learning & Teaching” conference with delegates from neighbouring universities and I was invited to address the delegates on contemporary educational issues in Australia.  My speech on school funding reform & the Gonski review, current Federal Government policy on tertiary student fees and outcomes in Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander tertiary education sparked many questions and lively discussion.

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Monash South Africa students with Chris Bourke

I meet with Monash South Africa students and heard about their volunteer community work in nearby Zandspruit - a very poor township of 45,000 people living in a 3km square area.  The students run a Saturday school for children in grades 4-6 focussing on literacy and numeracy as well as an in-school uLwazi tutoring program for year 10, 11 and 12 students.  They took me to visit the Zandspruit community, the junior primary school and the Emthonjeni community centre which has a range of programs including before and after school care.

 

 

 

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60th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference

I will be representing the ACT Legislative Assembly at the 60th Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference which will be held at Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon.  I will be blogging regularly on the journey to the conference as well as during proceedings so please check on my updates for more news.  Right now I’ve just arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa, after leaving Canberra last night with a plane change in Perth – it is 7am here.  More info here: http://www.cpahq.org/cpahq/

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AFL Canberra presentation ceremony

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Troy Fenyvesi , Chris Bourke and Michael Wescombe.

At the AFL Canberra presentation evening at the Hellenic Club I presented the 1st grade Jack McNamara (best and fairest) medals to joint winners Troy Fenyvesi (Eastlake Demons) and Michael Wescombe (Queanbeyan Tigers). The awards presented on the night acknowledged players, volunteers and officials who were cheered on by hundreds of AFL Canberra supporters.

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Majura training area

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I had a fascinating guided tour of the military’s Majura Training Area last week. We are in the control booth of the marksmanship range looking south, down Majura Valley towards Canberra airport. The training area, which covers the ACT’s northeast corner, was established by the Commonwealth in 1911 to serve the Duntroon Military College. It has served the army, and the RAAF as a target range for a time, ever since.

Australian Defence Force Academy cadets and other units use it for field and weapons training using special ranges for grenade, anti-armour weapons, and artillery. Upgrades to the training area in recent years include the modern kitchen at Camp Blake, which has accommodation blocks for troops not roughing it out in the field.

Defence works with ACT government agencies on environmental management and bushfire control of the area. Access to the area is tightly controlled due to the live firing training and the legacy of a century of possible unexploded ordinance on the range.

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RU OK?

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On the road for the R U OK? Bus tour at Marist College Pearce with Headmaster Richard Sidorko and the Labor Federal member for Chifley (NSW) Ed Husic. The message is about talking to your mates, asking them RU OK? The conversation could change a life.

Sadly, suicide affects too many Canberran’s and every life lost leaves a profound sense of grief on our community. A simple conversation, having the courage to reach out to someone struggling, can mean the difference between a hopeful path, or a tragic one.

We don’t have to be experts. We don’t have to have the answers or the solutions to someone’s problems. All we need to do is follow that gut feeling we have when we know that something’s not quite right, and ask the question, “are you okay?”

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