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Monday, 19 September 2011
Page: 10640


Mr RUDDOCK (Berowra) (13:07): Can I congratulate my colleague the member for Hughes on moving this motion and doing it so eloquently and thoroughly. Although I did not arrive in the chamber immediately, I heard his early introduction in my office, and he has outlined fully and comprehensively the plight of Coptic Christians in Egypt now. It is very timely that he has done so. It is not the first time these issues have been raised by members. I noticed the member for Aston has spoken in the House on the matter. The member for Hinkler and the member for Menzies have spoken on it, and the member for Holt has spoken previously. I note also that this motion had previously been considered in the Senate.

Mr Danby, the member for Melbourne Ports, will be summing up shortly, and he may be able to clarify for me the government's position on this very important matter .I note that this resolution has been strongly supported by the two members who have spoken before—the member for Chifley and the member for Holt—but, on the occasion on which this same resolution was considered in the Senate, Senator Joe Ludwig, responding on behalf of the government, said:

We do not support the motion.

I will read that again:

We do not support the motion. It has been a longstanding practice of the government to not deal with complex foreign policy matters by way of simple motion.

If that is the government's position, it should be stated in this debate. I would hope it is not, because I would hope that we will give you an opportunity at some time to vote on this matter in the main chamber.

The Copts have been present in Egypt since the establishment of Christendom. The role of St Mark, as one of the apostles of Christ taking the message to the people of Egypt, was very much a founding member of the early Christian church, and the Copts have played a very significant part in Christian history. I am one who is strongly of the view that, in the Middle East, Christians still have a proper role. It is where their history is rooted and where early messages were established. I would hope that the tragedy of these events will not lead to people evacuating the Middle East. I think for that reason our encouragement and support is absolutely essential.

I have had the great privilege of meeting Pope Shenouda on two occasions. I do know Bishop Suriel, I know Bishop Daniel from Sydney, and I have dealt with the Very Reverend Father Tadros El-Bakhoumi OAM, JP in Sydney, who has been many times Pope Shanouda's personal emissary. I have a small Coptic Church in my own electorate, at Galston—St Mary and St Sidhom Bishay. I was there only yesterday with the congregation. I am one who has played a part in helping to secure sanctuary in Australia for Copts who find it very difficult to survive, particularly those people who have been the subject of conversions. They are sometimes put under very significant pressure at later points in time. Australia has played a valuable role. I hope that is a role that will continue.

For me, the resolution that has been moved builds on the support that we and the Liberal Party have been able to offer to the Australian Coptic community. We have had a number of very significant demonstrations, one as recently as 21 May in Sydney, in Martin Place. I sent a message on that occasion, because it was after the attack on the Coptic Church in Alexandria in which, as has already been referred to, 21 parishioners lost their lives. The escalation of violence against the Copts, including kidnapping, rape and forced conversion is something that has to be condemned by all fair minded Australians. That is why I am gratified that we have this motion that we can vote on and send a very clear message to the Coptic community here in Australia that we support them and we support their fellow Egyptians in the freedom that they seek to exercise, the fundament right of freedom of religion, which we here in this country respect.