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Monday, 19 September 2011
Page: 10637


Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (12:57): It is a great privilege to rise to support this timely motion from the member for Hughes. I second the motion in relation to the Coptic community in Egypt and note my support for the Coptic community in Australia today. There are about 100,000 Copts in Australia. My own experience with that community is that they are making a fantastic contribution to our nation in a peaceful way and are integrating well with our organisations and institutions.

Following all that has been happening in the Middle East in recent times—the people's revolution in Egypt and the revolutions that have been sweeping through the Middle East—it is important that we stand up for the principle of human rights and defend people's right to practice their own faith and to exist in freedom and peace. I note in particular that Egypt is a signatory to the United Nations Universal Declaration on Human Rights, which states in article 18:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

I think it is important to note those words because all of the evidence we are seeing out of Egypt and that we are hearing from the Coptic community in the international media is that this is not occurring in Egypt today and has not been occurring for some time. The Alexandrian bombing, of course, was one of the most serious and more brutal examples of that, but even a brief summary of the violence and the outrageous acts going on in Egypt today provided by the Coptic community in Australia runs to some four pages, with incident after incident recording horrific tales of injury, bombings, attacks, murders, rapes and other serious crimes affecting the Coptic community in Egypt. It is right that Australia, also a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, stand up and articulate our position that we want to see a constitution and a system of government in Egypt that recognises the human rights of all individuals. That is what is at stake here in this motion today. We are expressing our support for the constitution of Egypt to universally respect human rights in Egypt and ensure that this continuing campaign of violence is ended. It is important to note that, with the removal of Mubarak, there is a historic opportunity to do this. He was a corrupt dictator, and estimates of his personal wealth run up to some $70 billion. For a leader to accumulate $70 billion off the back of his own people when some 40 per cent of them are living on $2 a day is a horrific example of corruption and wrongdoing by Mr Mubarak.

His removal during the people's revolution there represents a great opportunity. It also represents an opportunity for extreme groups to seize power. We express our support for the 21 November parliamentary process which we hope will see a tolerant and pluralistic regime in Egypt that will support Coptic Christians as well, realising that they are only 15 million and are a minority within the Egyptian population. They have the right to practise their faith, which is an ancient faith, as they practise it in Australia today.

I want to endorse the actions of the Australian Coptic community in holding many peaceful rallies, particularly one in January at Martin Place, where statements of support were read out by various members of this House and by ministers within the government. It is appropriate that we call upon the government to ensure that we are doing all that we can to support the Coptic community in Egypt and to use all our available organisations and resources to ensure that the process in Egypt delivers an outcome that will recognise of the rights of the Copts to practise their faith, free of this intolerance and systematic abuse of their rights.

We know from the member for Hughes that many high-ranking jobs and other positions are out of reach for Coptic Egyptians, in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and that there is a systemic problem in the Egyptian constitution in not recognising their right of freedom to worship, in direct contravention with Egypt's international obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. At this juncture, I want to record my great support for the Coptic community in Egypt and also in Australia. I recognise their peaceful nature and willingness to practice their faith in peace and freedom with others.