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Thursday, 5 February 2009
Page: 623


Mr STEPHEN SMITH (Minister for Foreign Affairs) (5:23 PM) —by leave—Over recent weeks and months, the Australian government has consistently stated that its strong view remains that Sri Lanka’s conflict cannot be resolved through military means alone. Australia notes that the Sri Lankan government continues to report battlefield gains, further to the recent capture of Kilinochchi and Elephant Pass. Australia recognises that this is a significant development in Sri Lanka’s decades-long conflict. Australia considers a political solution to be essential for long-term peace in a country which has suffered so long from bitter conflict.

Members on both sides of the House have expressed to me their support for a resolution of the conflict in Sri Lanka and their support for Australia’s approach to this difficult and complex issue. Australia remains gravely concerned at the worsening humanitarian situation in the north of Sri Lanka. Australia has been actively involved in international efforts to assist those adversely affected by the conflict in Sri Lanka. We are especially concerned by reports of civilian casualties, the continued vulnerability of civilians caught in the conflict and the difficulty of delivering aid and humanitarian assistance.

Earlier today I announced that Australia will contribute $5 million in additional humanitarian assistance to those affected in the north of Sri Lanka. This is in addition to the $4 million in food aid Australia recently announced for Sri Lanka through the World Food Program. This new assistance will help ensure that civilians caught up in the conflict have access to basic goods such as medical supplies, shelter, water and sanitation. Australia will deliver this assistance through the International Committee of the Red Cross, the United Nations, and Australian and international non-government organisations. I informed the Sri Lankan High Commissioner of this in a meeting this morning, during which I reiterated Australia’s views on the situation in Sri Lanka.

Australia calls on all those involved in the fighting to make protecting civilians an absolute priority:

  • All parties must respect ‘safe areas’ nominated by the Sri Lankan government and not fire into or out of these zones or in the vicinity of the PTK hospital or any other medical facility;
  • All parties must ensure medical evacuations are facilitated and life-saving humanitarian aid is delivered frequently and safely;
  • All parties must ensure that civilians can leave the conflict zone safely.

Australia calls on the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to declare a temporary no-fire period to allow for the evacuation of civilians. Australia calls on the LTTE to allow civilians caught in the conflict zone to leave. The government also calls on the Sri Lankan community in Australia to add its weight to this call to help ensure that civilian life is protected.

Australia welcomes the call of the so-called Tokyo Co-Chairs—Norway, Japan, the United States and the European Union—for the LTTE to discuss with the government of Sri Lanka how to end hostilities, including:

  • the laying down of arms;
  • the renunciation of violence;
  • acceptance of the government of Sri Lanka’s offer of amnesty; and
  • participating as a political party in a process to achieve a just and lasting political solution.

Last night, I spoke to the United Kingdom Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, about a range of matters, including our shared concern about the situation in Sri Lanka. I told Foreign Secretary Miliband that Australia also welcomed his joint statement with Secretary of State Clinton of the United States in support of the Tokyo Co-Chairs. Like its international partners, Australia encourages the Sri Lankan government to take steps to ensure the civilian population has confidence in the government’s commitment to their protection.

The Australian government takes this opportunity to thank the Sri Lankan government for its assistance in helping to ensure that an Australian UN official, who had been trapped with UN staff in the conflict zone in northern Sri Lanka, is now safely away from the fighting. We reiterate our call for a political solution to this conflict. The long-term security and prosperity of Sri Lanka will only be achieved through a political solution that meets the legitimate aspirations of all Sri Lankans.

I ask leave of the House to move a motion to enable the member for Goldstein to speak for 4½ minutes.

Leave granted.


Mr STEPHEN SMITH —I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent Mr Robb speaking for a period not exceeding 4½ minutes.

Question agreed to.