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Wednesday, 6 June 2001
Page: 27462

Mr LEO McLEAY (7:50 PM) —Tonight I want to say a few things about Cyprus, that beautiful island in the Mediterranean which has been divided now for 27 years following the summer of 1974 when Turkish troops invaded and occupied 37 per cent of its territory. I have often spoken about Cyprus in this House over past years. I have had the privilege of visiting the island on a number of occasions and I represented the government of Australia at the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Republic of Cyprus. I have been able to observe first hand on those visits what it is like to live in a divided country.

The history of Cyprus recently has not been a happy one. For a very long time, in fact since 1964, Australia has participated in peacekeeping missions in Cyprus. Australia has played a significant role in attempting to resolve the situation on the island. Successive Australian governments have taken the opportunity at international gatherings to discuss Cyprus and to keep the situation at the forefront of agendas and international meetings. I myself was a member for a number of years in the 1990s of an IPU-established committee to study the circumstances of Cyprus. It seems that there are a lot of committees that look at solving the problem in Cyprus but, like the Middle East and Ireland, not too much of a solution is arrived at.

Recently, former senator Jim Short was appointed Australia's special envoy for Cyprus. He replaced John Spender, who had recently finished his term as Ambassador to France. The principal responsibility of the special envoy is to support the efforts of the United Nations Secretary-General to broker a solution to the Cyprus problem. As successive ministers for foreign affairs have said, Australia is committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes in Cyprus, to the support of the peacekeeping and conflict resolution work of the United Nations and to the observance of international law. International law has a lot to do with the way the Cyprus situation can be resolved. We have recently seen a very significant decision of the European Court of Justice which will help resolve some of the issues on the island. Australia also has a humanitarian interest in the resolution of the Cyprus dispute due to the large number of Australian citizens of Cypriot, Greek and Turkish origin. Australia remains keen to assist in the search for a just and lasting settlement on Cyprus to the benefit of all parties.

Recently the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Donald McKinnon, met with the Cyprus foreign minister in Nicosia. He said that the Commonwealth would continue to stand by the people and government of Cyprus to ensure that a good sustainable solution to the question of Cyprus could be achieved. The Commonwealth is fully engaged in the UN-led peace process and very interested in keeping in touch with progress on Cyprus's accession to the European Union. To my mind, accession to the European Union will go a long way to resolving some of the intercommunal difficulties. When Cyprus becomes part of Europe, it might mean that some of those physical boundaries between the north and south of the island are broken down.

Accession to the European Union is proving to be a long, protracted process. As at the middle of May this year, Cyprus had concluded 18 out of 28 chapters on its path to accession. In a joint communique issued after a meeting of the EU Cyprus association council held in Brussels, it was reiterated by the EU that, while a solution to the Cyprus question would facilitate Cyprus's accession, it was not necessarily a precondition. This is encouraging news, though of course we all would prefer to see a resolution of the situation. But after so many years, and the difficulty in sustaining meaningful negotiations, even with the involvement of the United Nations, it is difficult sometimes to maintain any optimism.

I have always been of the view that the key to the solution of the problem in Cyprus is the good nature and willingness of the Cypriot people to try and resolve this issue themselves. If they had a lot less pressure from around them, it might be easier for them to do that. Tonight I would like to appeal to everyone involved with Cyprus to join together and move forward, in the spirit of UN Security Council resolution 1251 of June 1999, which provides for one state, with a single sovereignty and international personality. It is time to heal the rifts; it is time to bring the island back together again; it is time the Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots can once again live with each other and have their children grow up together on that beautiful island.