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Thursday, 16 May 2013
Page: 2787

Sri Lanka

Senator MILNE (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:21): My question without notice is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister Carr. Minister, are you aware of the Rajapaksa government's compulsory acquisition of Tamil land in Sri Lanka, and in particular of the petition lodged in the appeals court against the latest proposed land acquisition, P1, which seeks to appropriate 6,381 acres of land for government forces for no public purpose, land which contains the traditional homes of Tamils who have been kept in camps and repeatedly refused permission to return? If so, what representations have you made to the Rajapaksa government regarding such land acquisitions, displacement of people and fuelling of people seeking asylum? If you have not made representations, why not, and will you do so?

Senator BOB CARR (New South WalesMinister for Foreign Affairs) (14:22): We have consistently made representations to the government of Sri Lanka on human rights. We make no apologies for that and we make no apologies for a policy of engagement rather than isolation of the government of Sri Lanka to achieve the implementation of the human rights agenda that that government has set itself.

Most recently, we co-sponsored the Resolution on Promoting Reconciliation and Accountability in Sri Lanka in the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on 21 March. Australia was a co-sponsor of that resolution. When I met President Rajapaksa in December, I raised the importance as Australia sees it of the government of Sri Lanka delivering on its own committed benchmarks spelt out in the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission report. We will continue to engage the government of Sri Lanka about the importance of reconciling and settling the issues after a 3½-decade-long civil war.

I want to emphasise that that civil war was traumatic for the people of Sri Lanka. There is not one narrative that explains the civil war. It is a safe assumption that atrocities were committed by both sides in that civil war. Australia will continue whenever we meet, at foreign minister level, at the level of the President and in meetings with other ministers, to raise our concern about human rights in that country.

I am not aware of the land acquisition policy. I am happy to get advice from our high commission in Colombo. Our high commission, I might add, has a record of pressing these issues at every opportunity with the government in Colombo. Again, that is a legitimate concern. I commend the government of Sri Lanka on taking a responsible approach on the illegal people-smuggling activities— (Time expired)

Senator MILNE (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:24): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for getting advice on the land acquisition policies. I ask: given the impeachment of the Chief Justice of Sri Lanka because she stalled legislation that sought to grant greater political and financial power to President Rajapaksa's younger brother, the economic development minister, is the Australian government confident of the independence of the judiciary in Sri Lanka or that the rule of law is being upheld in Sri Lanka or, indeed, will be upheld in the appeals court, where this petition on land grabbing is being held? If you are confident, why have you got that confidence? (Time expired)

Senator BOB CARR (New South WalesMinister for Foreign Affairs) (14:25): It is not up to me to express confidence in how the court system in Sri Lanka will work. I am not in a position to do that. If there are matters of concern to us, we will raise them with the government. I raised with Foreign Minister Peiris our concern at the dismissal of the Chief Justice of Sri Lanka. I did that with a phone call to him rather than a public statement. I raised as well the question of judicial independence when I was in Colombo in December. The government presented an explanation of its criticisms of members of the judicial system. But it is not up to us to make a determination. We make representations. Sri Lanka will have to answer in various international fora, like before the Human Rights Council resolution, initiated with our support and our co-sponsorship, and answer to its own people. I emphasise again that the— (Time expired)

Senator MILNE (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (14:26): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Minister, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, reported this year on extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, militarisation and land grabs. Do you accept the report is evidence based? If so, are these practices acceptable to the Australian government? If not, why are we attending CHOGM and why are we sending back asylum seekers?

Senator BOB CARR (New South WalesMinister for Foreign Affairs) (14:26): Why are we sending back asylum seekers? Because they have arrived illegally as the result of work by people smugglers. That is why they are being sent back. Sri Lanka deserves to be commended for taking back people who have come here without a defensible claim of asylum. That is why they are being sent back.

Moreover, we have investigated four allegations of mistreatment. Two were found by our high commission to be absolutely invalid and two are still being investigated. So, of the thousands returned, there have been four complaints—four allegations about mistreatment. The fact is—

Senator Milne interjecting

Senator BOB CARR: I am getting on to that other part of the question. It is precisely because of those concerns expressed by the Human Rights Commissioner that we co-sponsored the resolution in the Human Rights Council to have these inquiries—that is precisely why we did that. Our record on this is commendable, unimpeachable— (Time expired)