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Wednesday, 9 September 2015
Page: 9644

Ms PLIBERSEK (SydneyDeputy Leader of the Opposition) (15:36): The Foreign minister has described very clearly the challenge that Australia faces in providing proper humanitarian assistance in Syria. She spoke about the visit she made last year to the region, to being present when people were being processed by the UNHCR and to the great need in the camps in particular. I have seen that need myself. The shadow minister for immigration, our chief government whip and others have travelled to the region to see the enormous need.

While it is absolutely welcome that the government has announced today that 12,000 more people will be brought from this most troubled and violent place and it is welcome that $44 million off assistance has been promised to the UNHCR and related agencies, the question is obviously why it has taken Australia so long. In fact, while this crisis has worsened since 2011, we have actually cut humanitarian assistance in Syria We cut aid to Iraq to zero dollars. We cut aid to the Middle East and North Africa region by 82 per cent. As this conflict worsened from 2011 to 2013, we provided $100 million and, from 2014 onwards, $55 million. This extra $44 million today will be very welcome and it will be put to good use by agencies that tell us that they are almost broke because of the enormous demand that has been placed on them. It will be put to good use in neighbouring countries that have borne the responsibility of caring for these traumatised and displaced people almost single-handedly. Countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and others in the region have required our help—have begged for our help—for months and years now and I am sure will be pleased that additional assistance is being provided today.

This is a complex issue, and in the time that we have today I can say a few quick things. The first is that, as our leader, Bill Shorten, said earlier, Labor will support the extension of the support we are giving to Iraq to protect its people and its territory, but we say that there is no simple solution to the problems in Syria. Without an international effort to bring the partners in the conflict and the forces behind them—arming them, supplying them, funding them—to the table, there can be no resolution of the conflict in Syria. So there must be a political solution that we play our part in delivering. There must be a greater humanitarian response from the world. In the short term we need to make sure that there are humanitarian corridors for the delivery of desperately needed food and non-food items to these most dangerous places. We must provide safe havens for the people who are facing every single day loss of life, bombardment and being overrun by Daesh or any of the other thousand or so organisations on the ground—or indeed by the Assad regime itself, which has killed many times more people than this wicked terrorist organisation.

So a political solution and a humanitarian response are needed, and of course that means a humanitarian response both for the people in the region who hope to return to rebuild their homeland of Syria and also to bring more people to Australia. There are people today waiting in camps who have relatives, family and communities here that would welcome and support them, and we must do our bit to support them too.