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Monday, 21 February 2011
Page: 644

Mr MELHAM (3:26 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Will the minister update the House on the developments in the Middle East?

Mr RUDD (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for his question. The international community, including people in this country, remain engaged with recent developments in the Middle East because, ultimately, they impact on us all. If the democratic transformation process in the Middle East goes wrong in countries like Egypt, there are profound implications in terms of terrorism, the power of Iran in the region, what happens to global energy prices and what happens with the future of international people movements.

What we have seen across the Middle East in recent times is a universal cry for freedom. We have seen this right across the region. We have seen a call for freedom of expression, a call for the right to peaceful protest, a call for the right of freedom of political association and, above all, a call for the ability to have free and fair elections. These are rights enjoyed here, but Freedom House tells us that across the world half of the human family at present do not have these freedoms.

Of course, in a time of political change and political transformation, there are many uncertainties that lie ahead. For example, what will happen in Egypt? What will now happen in Tunisia? What will happen in other parts of the region? What many are concerned about is whether non-democratic forces using the new-found democratic freedoms of the region will exploit those opportunities and, if given the chance, then wind back the clock on democracy, as we have seen most atrociously in Iran.

That is why the international community has a responsibility now to stand by the people of Egypt and support them at a difficult time of political transformation. That is why we have senior officials from Australia and a number of other countries meeting in Brussels on Wednesday of this week. That is why we are in contact with foreign ministers around the world at present. That is why we are also in direct contact with the interim Egyptian government about the needs they have now to stabilise food prices, in order to maximise economic and social stability at a time of radical political change.

Beyond all of this, I could simply say to honourable members that we have also been seized by recent developments in Libya. Today I have instructed the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to call in the Libyan ambassador to register our condemnation, together with that of other states around the world, of the flagrant use of lethal force against innocent civilians in Benghazi. The threat of the continued use of lethal force has been reiterated only this morning by the son of Colonel Gaddafi, Saif Gaddafi. We have upgraded the travel advisory for Libya. We have something short of 100 Australians registered as resident in Libya, and our consulate-general in Tripoli remains in contact with Australian residents there.

Early this morning I also spoke to the foreign affairs minister of Bahrain. Honourable members will know that in Bahrain we have also seen a loss of life, but the Bahraini authorities have decided in the last three days to withdraw their military from the streets and to also instruct their police to use non-lethal means to deal with peaceful protests. We will continue to monitor this closely.

This is a time of great uncertainty across the region, with protests in Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, Syria, Iran and Iraq. The time is now for political transformation and support for these countries around the world.

Ms Gillard —Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.