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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 945

Mr RUDDOCK (Berowra) (21:30): Today I wanted to participate in a debate in another chamber on a motion moved by the member for Fowler on the Sabian Mandaeans but, because of a diplomatic visitor, I was unable to be present in the chamber to participate in the debate. I wanted to note my support for his raising this issue. It is not the first time that he has done so. In fact, I spoke on a motion in very similar terms on 30 May last year.

At that time I noted that I had had a long association with the Sabian Mandaeans, the Assyrians, the Chaldeans and other Aramaic speakers generally. They were not necessarily constituents of mine but I was particularly interested in the plight of many of the original Christians and also the followers of John the Baptist—the Sabian Mandaeans. Having played such a significant role in those countries in the Middle East, it was tremendously disappointing to see them under pressure at particular points in time and suffering as a result of persecution. I noted in my previous speech that I had had meetings with the Middle East Council of Churches, particularly in Jordan. I had been told, in a very concerned way, that they were very worried about what was happening to Christians in many Middle Eastern countries. It would be a disaster if we came to a point where Christians, where all that early history and engagement occurred, were no longer able to reside in those parts of the world.

So it was with a deal of pleasure that I noticed again that the member for Fowler recognised the historic connections and contributions of the Mandaeans and others in that region, their ongoing plight and the systemic loss of culture, heritage and language. He condemned the acts of violence and persecution and encouraged the preservation and continued prosperity of the heritage and culture of the Sabian Mandaeans and other indigenous people of Iraq.

Some 50 per cent of Mandaeans have either died or left Iraq since 2003. Mandaeans have repeatedly called for the evacuation of their entire people. The community now numbers about 3,500 people, down from 60,000 people in 2003. Religion and ethnicity go hand in hand in Iraq. Unfortunately, that is also reflected in the constitution. It is a situation where only minorities like the Mandaeans, included in the subgroup of Christians and other groups, lack certain privileges that one might expect. There is nothing in the way of representation. We have seen situations in which there are recorded killings, including of women and children. There have been 46 kidnappings and 10 reported threats—21 between January 2007 and January 2008. According to the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, as reported in 2010, eight members of the community have been killed or injured due to politically or ethnically motivated attacks.

Some 6,000 Sabian Mandaeans now live in Sydney. I guess that is one of the reasons that this matter has been raised by some of my colleagues. Let me make one point which I disagreed with on the last occasion, which was the linking of Australia's part in the coalition of the willing with prompting us to be involved in this matter. The member, in his motion, states:

… Australia … has a moral responsibility to compassionately support and protect the indigenous minorities …

When I was Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, I was able to provide within the refugee program many places to settle Sabian Mandaeans in Australia. I think they have been wonderful settlers. I notice that the honourable member has been raising with the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship matters relating to the Sabian Mandaeans. I hope that, in response to his representations, this government will be able to be as generous as the former government was in assisting the Sabian Mandaeans, who need further assistance. (Time expired)