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Monday, 20 August 2018
Page: 7839


Mr HAYES (FowlerChief Opposition Whip) (11:27): I too acknowledge the great contribution of the member for Newcastle in bringing this motion before us today. I have spoken on a number of occasions in the parliament about the ongoing humanitarian crisis involving the Myanmar security forces and those in the Rakhine State, the Rohingya Muslims. Saturday, 25 August this year is important, as it marks one year since the escalation of violence in the Rakhine State—one year since the situation escalated from violence and abuse to atrocities and a humanitarian crisis of catastrophic proportions which has resulted in the displacement of over 700,000 people from the Rakhine State. The situation has been described by the United Nations and Human Rights Watch as a 'textbook example of ethnic cleansing' and 'crimes against humanity'.

Clearly, there have been atrocities committed against the Rohingya. Evidence from a number of investigations carried out by Human Rights Watch has documented a series of brutal crackdowns by the security forces against the ethnic Rohingya Muslims, involving extrajudicial killings; the torture and suffering of men, women and children; arson; and the destruction and takeover of more than 300 villages by the Myanmar military.

It is important to note the long history of discrimination that has existed against the Rohingya. The Myanmar government continues to deny the Rohingya citizenship and basic government services such as health and education. It is this abhorrent denial of basic human rights that has legitimised the treatment of the Rohingya more recently; however, this escalation is of a different kind. This is now a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Bangladesh, to its credit, has opened its doors to the Rohingya and continues to show tremendous generosity and hospitality in the face of this grave crisis. Despite the challenges that it faces domestically, Bangladesh has shown itself to be a true leader of the humanitarian response. Nevertheless, this makes the Rohingya in Bangladesh reliant on humanitarian assistance for their basic services. The risk now is markedly higher, given the full impact of the monsoon season. According to UNICEF, about 200,000 Rohingya refugees, of whom over 50 per cent are children, are already being well and truly threatened by the monsoons. They provide statistics that show that, in Bangladesh, over 900 shelters and 200 latrines have already been destroyed. Water points have also been washed away, and people have been buried under collapsing walls of mud. Waterborne diseases are regarded as a very high risk. While agencies such as UNICEF, Oxfam and Save the Children are working hard to move families to safer ground, the large number of refugees makes it very near impossible to relocate all these individuals to safety.

I note that Kofi Annan, regrettably, died over the weekend. As Chair of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, he had stated:

We recognise that the challenges facing Rakhine State and its peoples are complex and the search for lasting solutions will require determination, perseverance and trust. Nevertheless, there are steps that can be taken immediately …

While I'm pleased Australia is playing a crucial role in efforts to find a satisfactory position in terms of the return of the people of the Rakhine State, nevertheless there is a lot more that needs to be done. I call on the government to take a stronger stance against the authorities in Myanmar and to implement the recommendations of the Kofi Annan-led advisory commission by reinforcing its commitment to support unimpeded humanitarian access to all parts of the Rakhine State and refugee camps in Bangladesh. We must work closely with our regional partners to ensure that the government of Myanmar recommits to the pursuit of peace and a process of national reconciliation. The situation before the Australian government and the United Nations is urgent and one that requires immediate attention. We cannot merely play the role of bystander and hope for a satisfactory resolution. While these issues are intricate and deep-rooted, we must take the necessary steps to force change, otherwise we are really going to see a catastrophic situation emerge once again in Myanmar.

Debate adjourned.