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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4882

Mr MORRISON (Cook) (21:16): I rise to speak in support of the motion put by the member for McMahon and commend the member for bringing the motion to this House. I note that a motion of very similar intent was brought before the Federation Chamber today by the member for Berowra, the Father of the House. That was an equally worthy measure that should be considered by this place.

It is important we signal our solidarity to those who are forced to endure great suffering on account of their race and religion. It is important we extend our support to those who have been able to escape to build a new life here in Australia, by proper methods, but are never quite free from the horror as they pray daily for friends and family left behind. It is even more important we make known to their oppressors that Australia will not sit silently and tolerate the abuse of their fundamental human rights.

On 31 October 2010, 58 lives were taken in an attack on a Baghdad cathedral. This act of violent extremism was sadly not the first or last against the Christian Assyrian people. On 6 January 2008, Epiphany Day, five Assyrian churches, one Armenian church and monasteries in Baghdad and Mosul were attacked with coordinated car bombs. In 2011, there were eight attacks on churches, with more than 35 people wounded, both civilians and security forces.

Christian Assyrians continue to suffer severe and barbaric persecution in Iraq and also in Syria. They are actively discriminated against. Their land has been illegally occupied. Kidnapping for ransom is an all-too-common occurrence. Harassment is commonplace. Since 2003, 600,000 Christian Assyrians have fled their homes in Iraq. Thousands have come here to Australia and to Sydney to start a new life. But I know their brothers and sisters who remained behind are foremost in their thoughts.

There are an estimated three million Assyrians around the world, one million of them living in Iraq and 700,000 in Syria. Under Saddam Hussein, they faced great discrimination, but, though that regime of terror has come to an end, 10 years on their plight still has not. In Iraq, minorities still do not have adequate protection from the state. We call on the Iraqi government to change that.

This morning, the member for Berowra said we need to be generous, as we have been in the past, in assisting those refugees who are forced to flee. He was absolutely right, and that is what our humanitarian and refugee program is for. Australia runs—and did so even before the change in the level of intake—the most generous humanitarian and refugee resettlement program per capita in the world. We should never forget that these places are extremely precious: they mean the difference between life and death for those who are genuinely seeking the protection of those programs. In any one year, less than one per cent of the world's 10 million refugees will be resettled. In any one year, 9.9 million people will miss out. These places are precious. That is why it is crucial that we decide who comes to this country and the circumstances under which they come. That is why it is crucial that Australia runs our immigration program—not people smugglers who gamble with lives and sell hope to the highest bidder.

The commitment of the former minister for immigration, who brings this motion as a private member, put in place a program that would ensure 1,000 places for Assyrians in this situation. Those Assyrians go across a range of nationalities. They are Armenians; they are in other places. That was a worthy measure and it is one that the coalition has supported. I hope, if the coalition is elected to government, it is one that we can continue for some time—supporting Assyrians who are placed in this situation. We are in a situation to work with the local Assyrian community here in Australia to better identify those whom we are able to help. That population obviously also includes the Armenians who find themselves in this conflict.

Just the weekend before last, I found myself in Lebanon and was in a situation to observe at a little closer quarters the conflict that is occurring in Syria. This is a very real situation that has no obvious conclusion, although we can all assume that there will be hardship, there will be great brutality and there will be significant humanitarian consequences. A coalition government, if we are elected, will stand ready to assist with supporting the families of Assyrians here in Australia with being able to ensure that the refugee and humanitarian program is available to those who come through the appropriate method.