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Source: New Zealand Parliament

3 November, 2009, 10.30am , Select Committee Rooms 1/2 Bowen House.

Opening Address

The Hon Dr Lockwood Smith

Speaker of the House of Representatives

President of the CPA New Zealand Branch

I am very pleased to be here today to open this, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association’s 18th Australian and Pacific Regional Seminar, in Wellington.

I am particularly heartened to welcome the Samoan and Tongan delegates who have made a significant commitment to be here today.

I would also like to note the presence of the longest serving member of Parliament within our region, the very experienced Uliti Uata, the Peoples No.1 Representative for the Island Group of Ha’apai in Tonga, who has served as a member for the past 34 years. He took the place of honour in responding to the pöwhiri today on your welcome to the New Zealand Parliament.

This has been a very active year for our region with the 40th Conference of Presiding Officers and Clerks being held at Tarawa, Kiribati earlier this year.

There is much to discuss over the next two days particularly the recurring theme of climate change and the deep concerns of the peoples within the Pacific region of the potential hazards presented by the possibility of rising oceans.

Our Australian members are also taking up the climate theme for this seminar with the Tasmanian delegate discussing ways of building on their advantages and the Northern Territory introducing the impact of bushfires on the environment.

Representative democracy in our region is a powerful force for freedom and fairness in the government of all our people. But it does not materialise or take root on its own. There is a need for ongoing support and assistance, and encouragement from member countries for there to be true representation.

The presence of Bougainville today is a remarkable tribute to the resilience and determination of a people in developing a process of internal self government as an autonomous region.

New Zealand has been pleased to play a role in supporting the development of self government through the provision of technical support including training and advice.

There are challenges too in Samoa and I know the delegates here today will be interested in learning about reforms in the Samoan Parliament still strongly aligned with mati who hold 47 of the 49 seats. The position of Samoa is a reflection of the diversity of systems being applied to internal self government within our region.

The participation of youth in the democratic process is being discussed where parliamentary organisations meet around the world. The Secretary – General of the Commonwealth, Kamalesh Sharma, in marking the 60th anniversary of the Commonwealth earlier this year, that there is a need for young people to be both seen and heard at the global decision-making table.

His views strike a chord in our region when says there is a need for the views of our young to be heard and acted upon in every corner of public life and, and that the contributions of the young should be embraced.

Next year I will be sponsoring the sixth youth Parliament here in New Zealand as a means to helping young people understand what goes in Parliament and to give them the opportunity to express their views to politicians and the public. I invite all of you to follow its progress and, if you have not done so, consider adopting a similar concept in your parliament.

I know all delegates will be interested in the session engaging with youth which will be chaired by our New Zealand delegate Carmel Sepuloni MP. Carmel last month took a lead role in a workshop on engaging future generations in representative democracy at the 55th Commonwealth Parliamentary Association conference in Arusha, Tanzania, speaking on her experience as a young MP in the New Zealand Parliament.

There is also a lot of interest in the workshop on gender representation which will be led by Chris Auchinvole MP. Gender balance is very important for a country’s democracy and I am sure this topic will generate a lot of discussion among delegates.

The last occasion on which this regional seminar was staged in New Zealand was 1996. Since then it is pleasing to see that there has been a strengthening of cooperation and shared support for each other through our network of Parliaments at national and state levels. I look forward to this seminar further enhancing that positive development.

And I look forward to opportunity to further enhance this benefit which flows from gatherings such as this.

It is my pleasure and formal duty as President of the CPA New Zealand Branch to declare this Commonwealth Parliamentary Association 18th Australian and Pacific Regional Seminar officially open.