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Monday, 1 September 2014
Page: 9100


Mr SUKKAR (Deakin) (11:09): I would like to commend the member for McMahon for moving this motion. I rise today to add my voice to those condemning in the strongest possible terms the actions of ISIL in Iraq and Syria and to assert my support for the Christian Chaldean, Mandaen and Yezidi people. It is difficult to describe in words the depth of the outrage and horror that we, the Australian people, have felt at reports of the despicable atrocities—beheadings, crucifixions and mass executions—being carried out in the Middle East. These examples of the most medieval acts of barbarity, combined with modern weaponry, are a threat to all people who value decency in our world. Perhaps what has shocked and horrified us most of all is knowing that Australian citizens have left our shores to take up arms for these terrorists, betraying this country and furthering their radicalisation in the process. There are some 60 Australians known to be fighting with terrorists in the Middle East and another 100 or so actively supporting them.

The Australian government shares the Australian people's grave concerns for the thousands of innocent victims of ISIL's escalating violence in Syria and Iraq. That is why over the weekend we saw the Prime Minister take prompt action to help these people and respond to the request of the Obama administration in the United States, with permission of the Iraqi government, to airlift military equipment to the Kurds. We join the US, the UK, Canada, France and Italy in coming to the aid of desperate people who find themselves fighting to protect themselves and their loved ones from terrorists whose brutality knows no bounds and who will go to unimaginable lengths to spread their hatred and kill innocent people.

As a government, we could not stand by and watch these innocent people be slaughtered without doing what we reasonably could to save them and avert potential suicide. Not only have we agreed to join an airlift of arms and munitions to the besieged Kurdish Peshmerga region but we are also taking part in the humanitarian effort. The Prime Minister announced yesterday that Australia had participated in a humanitarian drop to the besieged town of Amreli in northern Iraq, again at the request of the Obama administration and the Iraqi government. We stand ready to participate in further humanitarian drops as required. In addition, the government has already provided $130 million in humanitarian assistance since 2011 to the people affected by the conflict in Syria. The Foreign Minister, the Hon. Julie Bishop, recently announced a $5 million package of humanitarian support to Iraq. Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has offered to resettle 4,400 people fleeing violence in Iraq and Syria, and Iraqi Christians and Yezidis are now listed as eligible for special humanitarian visas. Australia has a proud history of coming to the aid of those in need and doing what we can to take up the fight against terrorism—and, I am again proud to see Australia stepping forward.

As a Christian of Middle Eastern heritage, I have some understanding of the persecution that religious minorities can face in the region. Personally, I have been profoundly disturbed by the reports of attacks on minority groups, including Assyrian Christians—spelt out earlier. My heart goes out to them, and I have welcomed the repeated representations that Australian officials have made on their behalf at senior levels with the government of Iraq. As a government, we will continue to raise the plight of religious minorities, including Christians, at every opportunity. To paraphrase the Prime Minister, even though we understandably shrink from readily reaching out to these conflicts, the truth is that these conflicts reach out to our collective conscience. That is why it is out of a sense of decency and our own national interest that we must support the Christian and other minorities of the Middle East. Therefore, I am proud to be supporting this motion and I again commend all speakers today.