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Monday, 20 August 2018
Page: 7834


Mr ALEXANDER (Bennelong) (11:06): I thank the member for Newcastle for raising this important issue. We are all concerned about the human rights abuses that have occurred in Myanmar's Rakhine State. The scale of this tragedy is enormous. Over 700,000 Rohingya have crossed the border into Bangladesh since August 2017, while more than 530,000 Rohingya remain in Rakhine State—all need humanitarian assistance.

I am pleased to note that, as we do so often, Australia has responded generously to the crisis, providing $70 million in humanitarian assistance since September 2017. These funds have provided emergency supplies in the Rakhine State and essential services for displaced people in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. We have also prioritised our support towards the needs of women and children, who remain vulnerable to violence and exploitation, including trafficking. Australia's assistance has contributed to 974,000 people receiving food and the education of 530,000 children. Our commitment has included more than just money. Australia has also deployed 36 specialists to fill critical roles over the course of the crisis. This includes a site engineer deployed to the World Food Program, to supervise construction of a bridge, enabling them to send food trucks to camps hosting over 100,000 refugees.

The government has been encouraged by the strong engagement from the Australian community since the onset of the crisis. In 2017, DFAT partnered with a range of non-government organisations to launch a joint appeal for Myanmar and Bangladesh. Additionally, over a four-week period, Australians raised over $5.3 million for the eight participating organisations. The Australian government provided $5 million to match this donation.

The government has consistently raised Australia's concerns with Myanmar. The Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs have registered our concerns directly with Myanmar's state councillor, Aung San Suu Kyi. The Minister for International Development and the Pacific, Senator the Hon Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, also held discussions with Aung San Suu Kyi and other Myanmar government representatives during her visit to Myanmar. Just two weeks ago the foreign minister raised it with the Union Minister for International Cooperation, U Kyaw Tin, at the East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers Meeting and with the Minister of Home Affairs, U Kyaw Swe, at the Bali Process Ministerial Conference. The foreign minister regularly raises Australia's concerns with regional partners, most recently at the East Asia Summit Foreign Ministers Meeting in early August. The foreign minister and defence minister also discussed how best to respond to the crisis with their UK and US counterparts last month.

We all have a clear interest in helping Myanmar and Bangladesh resolve this crisis, given its regional dimensions. The Rohingya crisis is the largest humanitarian crisis in our region—hopefully, the tide has turned on it. We commend the government of Bangladesh for its generosity in responding. The government also welcomes the memorandum of understanding on repatriation between Myanmar and UN agencies and advocates for the safe, voluntary, dignified, sustainable return of displaced Rohingya from Bangladesh. Australia stands ready to support the government of Myanmar in implementing the recommendations of the Kofi Annan-led advisory commission on Rakhine State. Australia has called for a thorough, credible and independent investigation of human rights abuses. Perpetrators must be held to account. We support the UN fact-finding mission, and it is essential that Myanmar allows it access. We will respond to the fact-finding mission's findings when they are handed down in the coming months. Australia has supported resolutions and issued statements at the UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly calling for accountability, unfettered humanitarian access to Rakhine State and the implementation of the recommendations of the Kofi Annan advisory commission.

On the last note, I would like to pay tribute to the great Kofi Annan, who sadly passed away yesterday. He was a giant in this field of compassion and sympathetic international relations. His voice commanded respect from governments and offered hope to the oppressed. He was one of the truly great statesmen, and we will miss him deeply.