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Monday, 30 May 2011
Page: 5141

Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (11:30): When I became aware of this motion this morning, I chose to take up the opportunity to speak, not because there were a great number or because I have been contacted by members of these persecuted groups but because I have often spoken in this place of the need for religious freedom in the world. Particularly in the region of the Middle East, we see that there are problems. In Iran, we see the problems for the Baha'is. In Egypt, we see the problem for the Copts. For those reasons I am particularly keen to speak on this motion and reiterate the messages of previous speakers.

When we look at what is happening in the Middle East now, we can see that there are times of great hope ahead. With what happened in Egypt, to a degree, and what has happened in Libya, the mood is for change and the mood is for democracy. We should be very encouraged by that. Unfortunately, things have not worked out quite the way that a lot of these religious groups had hoped they would. I know that for the Coptic people in my electorate of Cowan the hopes they had for Egypt are unravelling fast.

Indeed, when we look at Iraq, the hopes of religious minorities in that country also have not been fulfilled. What we want for Iraq is a strong democracy, pluralism and opportunities for all forms of religion to have the freedom that they desire so that their followers can live in peace and can raise their children in peace and adherence to their faith. But that is not the case. It has always been difficult in the last thousand years or so for Christians in the Middle East, and it certainly does not appear to be becoming any easier in Iraq.

We see that there are certain groups, whether they are al-Qaeda or other extremist Islamic groups, which tend to look at minorities as an opportunity to blame, to persecute, to further their political considerations and to further their political case for power. When you look at Iraq, at the need for constitutional change and the need for the democracy to really strengthen and lock in the rights of religious minorities, there is still a distance to go with regard to these matters. There are laws, of course, that say you have freedom to practise your religion, but unfortunately there is also a lack of will on many occasions. Crimes go on against these groups—churches are blown up; people are attacked with bombs or are shot—and the state of investigation is highly disappointing. It is a major problem in places like Iraq and it is a major problem in the region. But it is not right for us to immediately opt for the safe haven. As has been said by people who have some of these particular groups within their electorate, they have come to Australia and have flourished, and long may it be the case that we have the opportunities for people to come here and carry on practising their religious freedom.

We should be looking at some of these countries to try to work with them to strengthen their democracy and help them to move towards a time when not only can they have a constitution that guarantees religious freedom but also there is a willingness and a determination by all agencies of government—defence and police—to comply with the needs of minorities. That is what we should be working towards and what we must do. I agree that all of the groups mentioned have added great value. They have integrated well into our society and enjoy the freedom that we have. Within the constraints of the humanitarian program we should be looking for further opportunities whereby such people can be given the chance to come to Australia and flourish. Admittedly, the humanitarian program is under some stress at the moment, and I do not wish to go there in this debate, but I think that when there are further opportunities to reconfigure the humanitarian program we should look to make contact post 2003 and allow these groups of people into the country.

There is a fair bit in the motion about what has changed in Iraq since 2003. It is clear that a lot of work needed to be done post 2003. I have already alluded to and spoken about some of that. At the same time, no-one could ever say that Saddam Hussein was any form of positive influence on religious freedom or the freedom of minority groups. Irrespective of why the second war in Iraq took place, we should have the confidence to say that the removal of Saddam Hussein was overwhelmingly positive for Iraq. There will always be challenges, because into the environment that followed his removal and the fall of his regime, came those who sought to take political advantage. The long enmity that has existed between Iran and Iraq and the influence of al-Qaeda and those who are against some of the religious elements within Iraq have created opportunities post Saddam Hussein for havoc, death and destruction.

There is hope for the future in Iraq. We should focus on trying to work with that country to encourage it and the instrumentalities of its government to make the most of the new democracy—the new period—and be very determined to develop the right laws and implement those laws to ensure that minority groups are protected.

I conclude by saying that I support the inclusion of Christians within the humanitarian program, particularly those from Iraq who are a good and positive influence—the Medes and the Chaldeans. I also support the words of the motion that more needs to be done in Iraq. I also pray for the Christians who have long been persecuted not only in Iraq but within this whole region, and I include here my good friends from the Coptic Orthodox Church who have been so badly persecuted in Egypt.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Murphy ): Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.