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Monday, 9 February 2015
Page: 20

Mr RUDDOCK (BerowraChief Government Whip) (10:54): I thank the member for Fremantle and my colleague the member for Werriwa for proposing and seconding this motion respectively. We can debate elements of it. I think, in part, it probably understates the enormity and magnitude of the problem, but I will take up part (2) of the motion, which I think fails to acknowledge adequately what the government is seeking to do.

I will just spend a moment on Syria. I have visited Syria many times. It is the cradle of Arab civilisation, enormously historic and culturally very significant. When you go to cities like Aleppo and Homs, when you see some of the areas which even the Crusaders tramped through, like the Krak des Chevaliers, you cannot help but be influenced by it being the cradle of Arab civilisation which has brought together Sunni, Shiah, Alawi, Druze and Christians—people do not realise the patriarchs of so many Christian churches have their headquarters in Damascus. This is a country that ought to be an example to the rest of the world, demonstrating that people of different faiths, different religions, can come together and live together in the way in which we do in Australia.

It is an absolute tragedy that we are seeing so many people displaced by this conflict. I think the numbers of those who are externally displaced are higher than recorded in this motion. We saw and heard about the situation in Turkey; in Jordan, which I have been to previously; and in Lebanon. These countries are now facing extraordinary pressures. Lebanon and Jordan are at the point of closing their borders. Turkey is becoming less willing to accept those who are displaced. There needs to be a realisation around the world about the crisis that has occurred in this region. I am enormously troubled by the potential for insecurity in Lebanon, a country which I have visited so many times and where many friends of mine still have relatives. I lament what is happening in Jordan and Turkey. I think it is important that we acknowledge the enormity of the problem and that we work to resolve it.

To pick up on one comment by my colleague the member for Werriwa, the Labor Party certainly did argue for a larger aid program, but I might say they did so in the context of a large number of unlawful arrivals being accommodated in the refugee program because they had landed here in Australia and they were counted as part of the program. So the 20,000 figure was largely fictitious in terms of what it was likely to be—in comparison to where we are now, where the temporary protection visa regime will mean that they are not taking permanent places.

We do have a significant commitment to assisting in the resettlement of people have been displaced in Syria. We are continuing to play a meaningful role in funding UN agencies and NGOs, in recognition of the considerable demand that there is for resources to be able to deal with their needs. As mentioned by the member for Werriwa, we had the opportunity of seeing refugees in circumstances that are quite horrific. It is important to understand that they are not free to travel; they do not have money to pay people smugglers. They have priority, in my view, in our consideration when we are looking at who ought to be assisted.

I am sure Australia will continue to play a positive role in contributing financially, providing refugee places and working through the international organisations to try and get a resolution to what is, I believe, the most significant problem facing the world community right now.