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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4926

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (12:02): I want to commend the member for Berowra for an excellent motion in relation to this matter and, indeed, all members of this place, including the member for Melbourne Ports and the member for Hughes, for excellent contributions in recognition of this serious issue and problem. I think it is a good idea for us in this place to call for the Australian government to raise the ongoing concern of significant human rights abuses of Christian Assyrians with the Iraqi government of today. Given the record of Australia in assisting Iraq and the people of Iraq with their needs over the years, it is a good chance for us to represent our ongoing concern about the serious situation that minority Christian groups are facing in Iraq today.

I also want to say that it has been my privilege to work with the Australian Assyrian community and get to meet and get to know many of its fantastic members and the contribution that they are making. We certainly see in Australia today people entering parliaments in this country like Ninos Khoshaba but also a good friend of mine in the New South Wales Liberal Party, Andy Rohan, the member for Smithfield, who is doing a fantastic job as an Australian with Assyrian background. I also want to acknowledge the contribution of His Beatitude Mar Meelis Zaia, the Archbishop of the Assyrian Church of the East, Australia and New Zealand, who has received the Order of Australia medal in recognition of this contribution.

It is an ongoing concern that even recently, in May this year, we have seen minority Christians amongst those suffering. Up to 140 people died in four consecutive days of violence in Iraq. This ongoing concern is added to records and reports of up to 1,000 Assyrian Christians having lost their lives in the time since the fall of Saddam Hussein. That is a very sobering statistic, indeed. It is sobering to read that if these attacks take place in a Christian neighbourhood or a Christian village you can assume that they are targeted especially against the Christian populations of the neighbourhoods and villages. That is, these attacks are deliberately targeting Christians in Iraq today.

When you read the Human rights report on Assyrians in Iraq: The exodus from Iraq, put out by the Assyria Council of Europe, you find some really sobering information about what is going on and why we need a motion such as this today. The member for Berowra has highlighted the 600,000 Christian Assyrians who have now fled Iraq in fear of this ongoing persecution and human rights abuses. We have seen saw the huge exodus of minorities and continuing threats and violence. While this report notes a general decrease in violence, that is coming from a level which is completely unacceptable to any civilised country.

Assyrians and other minorities are constantly experiencing targeted violence, threats and intimidation. It is disturbing to read that, because of the continuing displacement processes, many Assyrians are now not able to sustain themselves, lacking a regular source of income, opportunities and education, and neither the central Iraqi government nor the Kurdistan regional government is adequately dealing with these problems.

The purpose of this motion is to highlight the dozens of attacks and the revealed patterns of structural discrimination against Assyrians and their organisations during the past few years. We have seen continuing violence. We have seen people wounded. We have seen people killed. We have seen people abducted. We have seen the bombing of churches and parishioners being killed. All of these things, in the world's eyes, are completely unacceptable in any country, particularly in a new state which has been supported by so many countries, like Australia.

We learnt from the report that since 2011 a considerable movement amongst Assyrians has been taking place because of the highly dangerous situation. Women have been especially targeted and have been forced to take on the garments of a faith they do not support. Assyrian women, in particular, face constant threats of physical violence and danger. This is completely unacceptable to the international community and unacceptable to Australia. It is unacceptable that the marginalisation of minorities is partly incorporated into the new constitution of Iraq. I have to say that we do not want to see institutionalised discrimination in the constitution of any new country that is supported by a free society like Australia.

It is vital that we pass this motion today and recognise that the Christian Assyrian community, a minority religious and racial group in Iraq, are subject to ongoing violence and intimidation, that the contribution that they are making here in Australia is to be admired and praised and that we need to do more to raise this issue with the Iraqi government to ensure that all minorities within Iraq are treated fairly.