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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4893


Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (21:59): This is the second time I have presented a petition from the Barnabas Fund to the House of Representatives; however, in the cause of freedom of religion and the persecution of Christians around the world, I have spoken in the House on many occasions.

The task of the Barnabas Fund is to show and make clear that, currently, there are 200 million Christians around the world who are being persecuted, discriminated against and disadvantaged. To that end I will, at the end of my comments, present a petition containing 15,155 signatures from all over Australia. That petition is the Proclaim Freedom petition, which calls upon the Australian government to:

Recognise that Christians around the world currently face unprecedented levels of persecution and are one of the most persecuted groups in the world;

Put the plight of persecuted Christians both individually and as communities, at the forefront of their relations with the countries concerned;

Promote freedom of religion for all using diplomatic relations, bi-lateral ties, aid and agreed international obligations on core human rights and

Promote justice for all and specifically to ensure that those who incite hatred or act violently against Christians are held accountable for their crimes.

Christians are one of the largest and most persecuted groups in the world. Yet they often appear to be the most neglected group in Western governments' foreign policies. There is little concrete engagement with the issue of anti-Christian persecution, even though government may recognise that respect for minorities and human rights is a foundation stone for national and international peace and security.

The Barnabas Fund initiated their Proclaim Freedom petition as a means of providing them with the opportunity to call on the Australian government to pursue decisive policies, aimed at putting pressure on nations that persecute or condone the persecution of Christians and assisting other countries to improve the lot of minority groups within their borders. On this point, I think it is important that the government recognises and takes active steps to raise the issue of religious freedom and diversity in those countries that we have diplomatic relationships with around the world.

I agree with the Barnabas Fund that the Australian government should be active in promoting human rights in other countries for all minorities, including the 200 million Christians living under the shadow of persecution, discrimination and disadvantage. We should work to ensure that other countries bring to justice citizens who either incite anti-Christian hatred or engage in anti-Christian violence.

I know of this persecution. I have stood in the floodwaters of the Mekong River in Vietnam and prayed with the Mennonites in Saigon at the Cow Shed Church, because they would not bow to the government of Vietnam and who, as a result of not bowing to the government of Vietnam, were driven from the house where they worshipped. I have spoken with Catholic Priest Father Ly in Hue, because he would not toe the line of the Vietnamese Communist Party. We have seen the attacks on the Coptic Church in Egypt and today in parliament we have spoken about the Christians in Syria and also in Iraq. In too many places around the world, churches are burning and Christians are persecuted. This petition raises the voices of thousands of Australians to cry out for those who suffer for their faith. I thank the Barnabas Fund and their supporters for their strong support for the persecuted church. Their cause is just and, unfortunately, the need is great.

I would also like to pay tribute to the international director of the fund, Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, for his leadership and his launch of the international petition. I also thank past managing director of the fund in Australia, the Reverend Ian Wright, and the new managing director, Colin Johnston, for progressing the petition in Australia. I also thank every church that participated and every person who signed the petition.

Madam Speaker, I now present the Proclaim Freedom petition of the Barnabas Fund, with 15,155 signatures:

The petition read as follows—

To the Honourable The Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives

This petition of certain citizens of Australia draws the attention of the House to the plight of persecuted Christians throughout the world. We therefore ask the House to:

Recognise that Christians around the world currently face unprecedented levels of persecution and are one of the most persecuted groups in the world;

Put the plight of persecuted Christians both individually and as communities, at the forefront of their relations with the countries concerned;

Promote freedom of religion for all using diplomatic relations, bi-lateral ties, aid and agreed international obligations on core human rights and

Promote justice for all and specifically to ensure that those who incite hatred or act violently against Christians are held accountable for their crimes.

from 15,155 citizens

Petition received.