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Monday, 14 March 2005
Page: 47


Mr KELVIN THOMSON (3:20 PM) —I am delighted to join with the member for Parramatta in supporting her motion, and I commend her for moving it. One month ago today the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in Lebanon by a massive car bomb. This was clearly a politically motivated assassination. It was barbaric, and it caused great offence to people in Lebanon and throughout the world.

The member for Parramatta has outlined Rafik Hariri’s massive personal contribution to the reconstruction of Lebanon. In a rags to riches story, he amassed considerable personal fortune. He had a great sense of personal duty to the people and the community of Lebanon and he was personally responsible for much of the reconstruction of Beirut. He paid the tuition fees for thousands of students and he supported many charitable causes. He invested in Lebanon and he believed in Lebanon, and Lebanon is forever changed on account of his life and his work.

This cannot and should not end with his assassination. The people of Lebanon, to their great credit, have engaged in a courageous uprising over the course of the past month. I have many constituents of Lebanese background, and for many years they have indicated to me their great concern about the Syrian presence, and previously the Israeli presence, in Lebanon. They have indicated their desire for a democratic Lebanon, free from outside interference.

But in the last month the people of Lebanon have taken to the streets. Indeed, in Melbourne I had the privilege of addressing a rally on Thursday, 3 March at St Georges Road in North Fitzroy. The aims of that rally were to demand the immediate and total withdrawal of Syrian military forces and intelligence apparatus from Lebanon; to vehemently denounce the barbaric and cowardly assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and other innocent people; to demonstrate support for an official United Nations supervised investigation into the assassination; and to call for the immediate resignation of the present Lebanese government, making way for a democratic election to usher in a new phase of true sovereignty, independence and freedom. Today, I indicate to the House, as I indicated then, my support for those objectives and my support for this courageous response to this cowardly assassination.

The member for Casey saw fit to politicise the debate with some propaganda about this coming about as a result of the United States invasion of Iraq. Frankly, that is so much spin. But if democracy in the Middle East is to mean something, we need to have a free Lebanon. I welcome the comments of George Bush, Condoleezza Rice, the French government, other European governments and people around the world supporting, through international endeavours, the removal of all foreign forces from Lebanon so that from the outside we can support the construction of a truly free and independent nation, which I know many people in Lebanon have hungered for and thirsted for for many years.

We need to get a timetable for the complete withdrawal of Syrian forces. I welcome the fact that we have had statements from the Syrian President in the direction of withdrawal and that we are seeing some action in the direction of withdrawal, but we need a clear timetable for the withdrawal of all foreign forces, including the security apparatus. We need an end to the role which the security apparatus has been playing in Lebanon.

In previous times Labor has indicated its support for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence of Lebanon under the sole and exclusive authority of the government of Lebanon, and I reiterate this support. We have called upon forces remaining in Lebanon to withdraw from Lebanese territory consistent with both the 1989 Taif agreement and United Nations Security Council resolution 1559, adopted on 2 September last year. We call for the disarming and dismantling of all Lebanese and foreign sponsored militias and we will support the implementation of robust, independent verification mechanisms to ensure that those militias remain disbanded. Finally, Labor strongly supports free and fair elections in Lebanon without foreign interference or influence and will support moves to ensure that Lebanese elections are supervised by independent election monitors. (Time expired)