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Thursday, 19 June 2014
Page: 6774

Mr BYRNE (Holt) (09:35): Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with Ms Sinke Wesho, Ms Biftu Gutama and Mr Jamal Makuria, who are members of the Oromo community in my electorate. We met to discuss the plight of the Oromo people, who live in Ethiopia and 10 other countries in eastern Africa. The Oromos are the single largest ethnic and indigenous group in Ethiopia. They comprise more than 30 million people, out of Ethiopia's population of 90 million people. However, for a long time these indigenous Oromo people have faced persecution from the Ethiopian government.

According to the 2011 census there were 4,489 Ethiopians living in Victoria. I am advised that many people of Ethiopian background who live in Australia, like Sinke Wesho, have deep concerns about what the Ethiopian government is doing to its people in Ethiopia. According to Ms Wesho, the Ethiopian government has recently unveiled its integrated master plan for the capital, Addis Ababa, which aims to incorporate smaller townships surrounding the city of Addis Ababa into the major city. The consequence of this particular plan is that farmers in and around these smaller towns are being forced off their land. The action will, unchecked, force two million Oromo farmers and their families off their land.

Ms Wesho has advised that Ethiopia is in turmoil. The Oromo people are in a dire situation due to the political instability in the country. For example, on 25 April 2014 the Ethiopian government opened fire with live bullets on Oromo students who were protesting against this master plan, which would, as I said, evict two million farmers off their land. According to Ms Wesho, this master plan is a systematic strategy to evict the Oromos from their capital city and to evacuate the citizens around the capital in order to destroy their identity—the cultural, political and social aspects of the Oromo people.

It is deeply disturbing to hear from Ms Wesho that Oromo university students and residents were killed, arrested and imprisoned, basically for protesting peacefully and protesting for a fundamental human right. According to Ms Wesho, the International Oromo Youth Association urgently requests the following actions to be taken in an attempt to pressure the Ethiopian government to stop terrorising the peaceful Oromo protesters. Firstly, they want the 30,000 Oromo people who are actually in prison released and not subjected to torture and harassment in jail. Secondly, they want the Ethiopian government to immediately stop this forceful displacement of the Oromo people. Thirdly, they want the international community to act in favour of and support the innocent civilian populace that is seeking a fundamental human right. Punitive actions should be contemplated by this government and by the international community in a campaign to support the Oromo people and a campaign for freedom of expression. I would certainly like to thank Ms Wesho and her companions for meeting with me and I will continue to raise their concerns in this place on behalf of the Oromo people.