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Thursday, 18 August 2011
Page: 8673


Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (12:44): On 9 July, the world welcomed South Sudan to the international community of nations. After 60 years of struggle against the Islamist regime in Khartoum, the people of the new republic of South Sudan are free. Representing Prime Minister Gillard and the people of Australia, I had the honour of travelling to Juba, the gritty capital of the south, to participate in the independence celebrations. What I saw in Juba gave me hope. The road to independence has not been easy for South Sudan, with five decades of internecine war with the north which have seen the death of 2½ million people. I want to thank Team Australia, who hosted me while I was in Juba and Nairobi; Australian Ambassador Geoff Tooth; his deputy, Paul Dziatkowiec; Sue Graves from AusAID; Simon Wall, Third Secretary; Michael Collins, Second Secretary; and Dr Angelique Burguez, Second Secretary from Cairo.

Australia's early recognition of South Sudan and the announcement of our grant of $16 million over two years to support and deliver services such as education, maternal health, sanitation and support for rural livelihoods have made a strong impression with the new South Sudanese leadership. The security situation in South Sudan remains extremely fragile. Over 40 per cent of foreign aid—I might say not from us—is reportedly spent on the armed forces of the new nation. In June this year the governments of the north and the south signed an accord to demilitarise one of the border provinces and to allow in a United Nations force of Ethiopian peacekeepers to patrol it. But since 5 June there have been clashes in which 73,000 people have had to flee their homes. This is particularly important because in the provinces of Abyei and Kordofan are the oil resources of the new government, the Republic of South Sudan. That is why it is important that we try and re-establish peace there, because this is an extremely poor country. There are 50 kilometres of sealed roads in a country the size of France. There is 42 per cent female literacy and it is one of the poorest countries in the world. It is an enormous task building a state like this. The infrastructure is worse than in East Timor under Portugal and Indonesia. Only 15 per cent of people are educated. Prior to South Sudan's independence, 470,000 barrels of oil were pumped per day, three-quarters of which came from the south. However, all of the oil flows north, through Khartoum.

Significantly, despite UN indictment by the International Criminal Court for activities in western Sudan, President al-Bashir attended the celebrations in Juba, which I think is an indication of the fact that he and his regime would like the international community to concentrate on potential peace moves between the north and the south rather than his activities in the west of Sudan. Border demarcation is particularly problematic as 20 per cent of the border has not been agreed on.

There is an incredible role for Australia in the potential for this country. One of the things that I absolutely celebrated when I was there was that so many other South Sudanese elite speak with broad Australian accents. That is because under the humanitarian program 30,000 Sudanese people have been admitted to Australia and many of them are returning, hopefully with Australian commerce and mining companies, to develop the former country. They are certainly making a great connection between Australia and South Sudan. I note that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have an excellent scheme which is going to take place in Perth for international training of people in openness and transparency of mining operations, which are completely underdeveloped in Southern Sudan, so we have got a lot to impart there. Eventually, beginning at the October meeting of the Commonwealth, I expect that South Sudan will become a full member of the Commonwealth of Nations.

Despite two million lives being lost in the struggle over the last decades, the mood there was inspiring and positive. It was heart-warming to witness the people's belief that the day after tomorrow will be better than the one today. As South Sudan's President Kiir said at the celebrations:

Never again shall South Sudanese be oppressed for their political beliefs. Never again shall our people be discriminated against on account of race and religion. Never again shall we roam the world as sojourners and refugees. We have reclaimed our permanent home given to us by God as our birthright. As we bask in the glory of nationhood, I call upon all South Sudanese to put the long and sad history of war, hardship and loss behind them and open a new chapter of peace and reconciliation in our lives.

We can all say 'Amen' to that.