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Monday, 24 February 2014
Page: 702


Mr HAYES (FowlerChief Opposition Whip) (13:29): I second the motion and congratulate my colleague for bringing this motion forward. March 16 this year marks the 25th anniversary of the Iraqi air force, on the orders of Saddam Hussein, dropping chemical weapons on the Kurdish town of Halabja.

Citizens were rushing for shelter in their cellars, realising the attack was different from the many attacks previously made and from the shelling that had already taken place in that town. The place was covered with a very smoky gas that hovered over the ground. Despite hiding in their shelters, people soon started feeling the horrendous effects on their bodies. Hundreds were feeling ill and then dying in the streets. Thousands of innocent civilians—men, women and children—were exposed to toxic chemical agents that led to their agonising and painful deaths and left many more permanently debilitated.

This cold-blooded attack was part of a deliberate campaign called al-Anfal, directed by the former leader of the Iraqi regime, the infamous Hassan al-Majid. It was designed to exterminate the Kurdish inhabitants. This attack occurred in the township of Halabja and was just one instance of many large-scale mass murders that happened between 1987 and 1988. Several thousand Kurdish villages were destroyed, approximately 100,000 Iraqi Kurds lost their lives and another 7,000 people were injured as a result of this genocide.

This was the first time in history that a government used weapons of mass destruction against its own people. Consequently, more than two decades after this brutal massacre, the aftermath of the atrocity is still apparent, with toxic gas causing long-term illness, birth defects, miscarriages, infertility, paralysis, neurological disorders and cancers among many of the surviving generation. The chemical attacks have also irreparably damaged the environment and soil and have contaminated water and food supplies.

The consequence is that the land remains useless for agriculture and breeding purposes and it is still very difficult for restocking animals. It is important to note, as the member for Werriwa did, that in 2010 the Supreme Iraqi Criminal Tribunal recognised that the events at Halabja were a crime against humankind. It was, I strongly submit, a genocide.

Australia has since become home to many of the Kurdish refugees, providing them with humanitarian services and support. In turn, the Kurds have contributed positively to Australia's multicultural community. Despite the overwhelming challenges, the community of Halabja have since taken steps to normalise their lives through a commitment to building a peaceful and inclusive region in Iraq. This is testament to the courage and determination of the Kurdish people. Since these shameful events, which are not just a plight on Iraq but a plight on the rest of the world, we have seen the reconsolidation of Iraq. The position of Kurdistan in the northern region has changed. It is now home to approximately 25 per cent of the Iraqi population and has played a disproportionate role in the economic development of the nation itself. Through the professional developments of its oilfields and the utilisation of the pipeline through to Turkey, and being able to export from the gulf, the Kurdistan region is now making a major contribution to the world's energy supplies and to the economic future of Iraq itself.

There have also been considerable inroads in supporting the health and education of its people. The Kurdistan Regional Government understands that to provide for the future of its people it must first make considerable investment in education of its youth. That is something the Kurdistan Regional Government should be commended on.

I would like to thank Mr Havan Syan—here with us today; the representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government—for keeping me abreast of the issues concerning this region and how vital they are for the stability of our globe. Finally, on the 25th anniversary, which falls on the 16th, I urge that we pause to remember—to commemorate—the innocent lives that were tragically lost as a result of this barbaric attack, and pray that such violence is never again inflicted by a state on its people.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The time allocated for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.

Proceedings suspended from 13:35 to 15:59