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Extension of Sri Lankan and Lebanese concession



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MEDIA STATEMENT Philip R uddock MP Federal Member for Dundas Shadow Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs .

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Electorate Parliament House

Tel: (02) 858 1011 Tel: (06) 277 4343 Fax: (02) 804 6739 Fax: (06) 277 2062

EXTENSION OF SRI LANKAN AND LEBANESE CONCESSION

Regrettably, there is little evidence to suggest that, at this time, the security situation in Sri Lanka has significantly improved since the last announced extension of stay for Sri Lankan nationals in Australia.

If anything, the picture today is more uncertain than ever.

In relation to Lebanese nationals in Australia however, the Minister has introduced several new elements.

First, an extension until November 30 1991 appears only possible if an applicant had earlier applied and been granted an extension of stay until June 30 1991.

This obviously excludes those who may have arrived in Australia since October 31,1990, the day the June extension was announced and also those who, through ignorance or error, may have not formally sought an extension at that time.

Second, the Minister makes it clear that no further extensions will now be possible and that this extension is given to allow those whom it effects to arrange their departure.

The Minister's unstated but obvious conclusion is that the situation in Lebanon has improved sufficiently to enable people to return safely.

This sits uncomfortably with the Foreign Minister's statement that the security situation has not sufficiently improved to allow Australia to re-open its post in Beirut.

Dr Blewett's response, on behalf of Senator Evans, to several questions concerning the Government's assessment of the current security situation in Lebanon, is attached.

June 27 1991

Contact Philip Ruddock after hours on (06) 249 7749

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HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES' Q U E S T I O N ---- - '

LEBANON

(Question No. 832)

Mr Ruddock asked the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, upon notice, on 16 May 1991:

(1) What is the Government's assessment of the peace initiative in Lebanon.

(2) Have the USA's ambassador and staff returned to East Beirut.

(3) Will Australia re-open its embassy in Beirut; if so, when; if not, why not.

(4) Have any Government officials been sent to Lebanon to evaluate the peace and security situation.

Dr Blewett - the Minister for Foreign Affairs and * Trade has provided the following answer to the honourable member's question:

(1) Under President Hrawi the Lebanese Government has made progress in implementing the Taif Agreement, which provides for political reforms'aimed at equitable power sharing between Muslims and ' Christians and a process for extending the

authority of the central government. The Lebanese Parliament has approved constitutional reforms reapportioning power between the President and the Cabinet and providing for equal Christian and Muslim representation in an -enlarged Parliament. A confessionally-balanced

Cabinet has been formed. The Lebanese Army has successfully deployed throughout about 25 per cent of Lebanon, including all of Beirut, and President Hrawi has recently commenced the disarming and disbanding of the militias. This process is not complete.

President Hrawi has laid the basis for overcoming the bitterness left by years of civil war. The continued cooperation of the various elements of Lebanese society will be important in bringing to

fruition the gains already made. However, the role of outside forces is still a serious complicating factor. Israel remains in occupation of its self-styled security zone in defiance of United Nations Security Council Resolution 425. Syrian forces also remain in Lebanon. Although their presence is agreed to by the Hrawi· government, Lebanese sovereignty will not be fully realised until they depart.

Syria and Lebanon concluded this month a Treaty of Fraternity, Cooperation and Coordination. Reports indicate that the Treaty consists of a six-point plan dealing with cooperation and coordination in education, trade, foreign policy,

security arrangements and the economy. Some Lebanese Christian representatives and Israel have claimed that the treaty may be a vehicle for increasing Syrian influence in Lebanon. It is

too early for us to make such a judgement at this stage. As we have made clear over several years, we oppose any activity in Lebanon by Syria or any other country which compromises Lebanese

sovereignty.

(2) The US Ambassador and his staff returned to Beirut on 30 March after being evacuated in January for security reasons.

(3) The operations of the Australian Embassy in Beirut remain suspended because of the security situation there. The Government does do not yet regard the security situation as having improved sufficiently to allow the Embassy#s resumption of operations, but continues to monitor closely * developments in this regard. Our Embassy in Damascus noted in a recent assessment that . security continues to be below what it would

regard as an acceptable level for Australian officials to live and work.

(4) Two officials from our Embassy in Damascus visited Beirut on 13-14 May. They reported after that visit that there has been an improvement in the security situation in Beirut in recent months, but that the improvement is from a very

low base: the situation could change quickly given the fragility of the situation. The dimension of the continuing security problems in: Lebanon is indicated by the very extensive and costly security operations which those few Western embassies open in Beirut maintain in

order to protect their diplomats.