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Thursday, 16 May 2013
Page: 2804


Senator MILNE (TasmaniaLeader of the Australian Greens) (15:30): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Senator Bob Carr) to a question without notice asked by Senator Milne today relating to Sri Lanka .

We are, in Australia, having a number of people from Sri Lanka seeking asylum, and the Australian government, together with the coalition, are turning them back and sending them away, and there is very little analysis of what is actually going on and the human rights abuses that are taking place in Sri Lanka right now. Of course there were atrocities during the civil war and there deserves to be an international and thorough inquiry into those atrocities. But the pretence of this government seems to be that those atrocities are over. Well, we know they are not. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has reported just this year on extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, militarisation and land grabs, and it is one of those land grabs that Senator Carr seemed to know nothing about.

Let me tell you, Mr Deputy President, that in the appeals court in Sri Lanka there has been a petition filed against an acquisition notice marked 'P1' that advocates the appropriation of 6,381 acres of Tamil land that contains their traditional homes. The petition is against the government compulsorily acquiring land to be taken over by government forces for no public purpose. In other words, people are being displaced, driven off their land, by the Rajapaksa regime. A petition is going to the appeals court.

But there is no rule of law in Sri Lanka anymore. There is no independence of the judiciary. The chief justice was impeached only recently because she stalled through the courts a move by the Rajapaksa regime to extend the powers of the President's younger brother, who happens to be the Minister for Economic Development in that country. We are seeing academics disappear in white vans. People are pulled off the street and shoved into white vans without numberplates. They disappear. They are tortured. Many do not return. Several are just dumped back on the streets after they have been tortured. This is going on right now. That is why people in that country are trying to get away and seek asylum. If they had been—and they were—displaced after the civil war, they were sent to camps. While they are in camps they are not allowed to go back to their traditional lands, and in move the Rajapaksas, acquire that land and take it from them, or, alternatively, dump people back on land that has been totally destroyed without any infrastructure. That is what is going on.

Other countries around the world are really concerned about this, and the minister acknowledged that Australia co-sponsored a motion in Geneva at the Human Rights Council—after Australia worked with other countries to water it down, I might say, but at least it went through; we got that petition through. Yet the minister says he can believe the Rajapaksa regime, that he works cooperatively with the Rajapaksa regime, and that Australia is going to go to CHOGM. Australia should stay away from the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting as the Canadians are going to do, because by going there you are legitimising the human rights abuses and the land grabs going on in Sri Lanka right at this time, which are displacing people and leaving them with nowhere to go. I would ask that the Australian government seriously look at what happens to this petition in the appeal court against compulsory acquisition of land. This is an area two-thirds the size of Colombo that is currently being compulsorily acquired and taken away from its rightful owners.

Just here this morning we had the government and coalition get together to excise the whole country of Australia from the migration zone to stop people from Sri Lanka trying to seek asylum because a number of them arrived in a boat at Geraldton, and they have been sent back with virtually no proper assessment of their asylum-seeking claims and rights. That is the sort of country we have turned into, and we are supporting the Rajapaksas. As one of the members of the House of Commons asked of the government in the UK recently: are you happy for the person who is going to chair the Commonwealth meeting in Sri Lanka to be a person who is accused of war crimes? Is that a particularly good idea? It is absolutely appalling that we are not taking a stand against the Rajapaksas and instead are pouring money into the Rajapaksa regime and turning a blind eye to what is going on. The test of this will be: what does the government do in relation to this particular petition in the appeals court against compulsory acquisitions?

Question agreed to.