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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 899

Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (2:12 PM) —My question is directed to the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister update the House on the evolving situation in Libya and the wider Middle East?

Ms GILLARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for his question, a question of real concern to Australians. I am sure that this whole chamber would join me in condemning clearly and unequivocally the violence that we have seen in Libya. What we have seen is a state take up the weapons of war against its own people. The results—and we have seen them for ourselves on our TV screens—have been bloody and they have been shocking. The international community has spoken with one voice, having seen what has happened in Libya, and that one voice has said that there must be no more violence. We absolutely condemn the threat by Colonel Gaddafi’s son to plunge Libya into a state of civil war and we call on the Libyan authorities to listen to their people.

There have been weeks of uncertainty and turmoil in the Arab world and during those weeks of uncertainty and turmoil, as they continue, the government’s top priority has been the safety of Australians. I can advise the House, as I have stated publicly and as is now available through all of the usual channels, that our travel advisory for Libya says simply and succinctly: do not travel to Libya. We are concerned about the circumstances of Australians in Libya. I can advise the House that we have some 105 Australians registered as in Libya at the present time. We are advising them to leave the country if it is safe for them to do so. Of course, in giving this advice we recognise that they would be worried about their safety, we recognise that their families would be worried about their safety and we recognise that organising travel would not be easy.

Consequently, our embassy in Cairo, which is accredited to Libya, and our consul general in Tripoli are making contingency plans for emergency evacuation options. An emergency task force meeting was held this morning to coordinate our response. I would like to take this opportunity in the parliament to thank the government of the United Kingdom, which has made an offer to us to help with emergency evacuations should that be necessary.

Across all these days of difficulty in various countries, and now particularly in Libya, we have been very clear about the position of the Australian government and what we believe in. We support the rights of citizens to peacefully protest and we do not believe that those peaceful protests should be met by violence. We also understand the aspirations of people for freedom, for democracy, for the kinds of things that we take for granted. These are aspirations that cannot be suppressed. They cannot be denied. They keep coming through. We have seen that on the streets of Libya as we saw it on the streets of Egypt. I want to ensure in these circumstances not only that the voice of Australia is heard but also that we do everything we can to keep Australians in Libya safe, and that is what we are doing at the moment.