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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9262

Mr CRAIG KELLY (Hughes) (13:12): Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the presence in the gallery today of the Serbian Ambassador to Australia, Neda Maletic. Ambassador, thank you for coming here today, and congratulations on the fine work you are doing with the Serbian community here in Australian which, as the good member for Fowler said, now numbers almost 100,000 people. I know that you have your hands full, and we hope that you continue enjoying your time as the Serbian Ambassador here in Australia for many years to come.

Going to school here in Australia in the 1970s and early 1980s, I, like most Australians, learnt very little about the long and proud history of the Serbian nation other than the history of the start of World War I with the assassination of the Austrian Archduke. I did not learn that Serbia was our ally in both World War I and World War II. But in the 1990s, when I was working as the export manager for my parents lighting business, I had the privilege of travelling to Dubai, where I met a gentleman named Voja Djordevic. Voja was a Serbian who lived in Kuwait when the Iraqis invaded. Afterwards, he moved to Dubai, where he set up a business. He was our business partner in Dubai. I had the great privilege of staying with Voja at his family villa in Dubai and enjoying his hospitality on my many visits there. I also enjoyed his wife's Serbian home cooking and had the pleasure of indulging in one or two of the fine Serbian wines and cognacs that they served.

I was also staying with him during the NATO bombing in Belgrade. That was a very distressing time for all Serbian people. I sat up one night with Voja and I asked him to explain the history of Serbia and the Serbian people, because here in Australia we were simply not taught about it. We sat up talking all night, and it gave me a much greater appreciation of the difficulties and the struggles that Serbia as a nation has had over many centuries.

I commend the motion moved by the member for Fowler. I support it 100 per cent. Member for Fowler, I know that you have a very large Serbian population in your electorate. I do not think I have as many, but I do have many good Serbian people in my electorate. One thing I have found is that, although sometimes Serbians might seem a little gruff on the outside—like my good friend Voja—inside they have a heart of gold. I know that our Serbian-Australians today are fiercely proud of being Australian. They are patriotic and they are hardworking. They have made strong contributions to our nation and that will continue in the years to come. Today they are a valued thread of the fabric which makes Australia the great nation that it is.

Last week I spoke on the motion about the change to our tariff regime, which gave Serbian firms greater opportunity to export their goods here to Australia. I thought it would be interesting to have a look at how small our trade with Serbia actually is. Our two-way trade with Serbia at the moment is only around $14 million. Serbia actually ranks as only Australia's 134th largest trading partner. So the increase that we have had is coming off a low base and it is very welcome. I am sure that in the years to come the two-way trade between our nations will continue to increase and the relationship between our countries will continue to grow over the years.

As part of that two-way trade, Australian companies should look at opportunities to export to Serbia. In the entire financial year of 2011, exports to Serbia were only a little over $2.7 million, which places us as one of the smallest trading nations with them. Those exports were made up of $500,000 worth of hand and machine tools; $479,000 worth of prams, toys, games and sporting goods; $335,000 worth of medical equipment; and $195,000 worth of specialised machinery and parts. So not only does opening our trade relationship further with Serbia give Serbian countries a greater opportunity to export to Australia; many Australian companies should also benefit from the improved two-way trade.

The other thing mentioned in the motion is that the Serbian nation has recently gained European Union candidacy status, which would suggest, correctly, that there is a greatly increased potential for Serbia to become part of the European Union and increase the trade and prosperity for Serbia's people. I note that Serbia is hoping that they will have ascension to the EU by 2015. We hope that will come true. I think the sooner the better for Serbia to be part of the European Union. We hope for all the people in Serbia that comes true very quickly.

Several months ago, I had the pleasure of attending with the ambassador a dinner for the association of camp inmates of Republika Srpska, which I was very proud to attend and speak at. Another thing I learnt about Serbia was that at Bonnyrigg they had a commemoration to Draza Mihailovic, who was a Serb general during World War II. Another thing not taught to our kids during school—it was one thing I never learnt—is how the Serbs were our staunch allies during World War II. General Draza Mihailovic was a Yugoslav Serb general who, after the Nazis invaded Belgrade, retreated to the mountains and worked with bands of guerrillas. In fact, his groups are credited with rescuing more than 500 Allied airmen who were downed in Nazi occupied territory.

In 1948, President Harry Truman issued him with the American Legion of Merit, which is the highest order that a foreign national can be awarded by the American government.

I would also like to take this time to mention the Liverpool council elections which are coming up. The Liberal Party are very proud to have a local Australian of Serbian heritage—a proud local, a local small-business man working in the design sector, a proud father of two—Vladimir Skataric, standing for Liverpool council for us. We as Liberals are very proud to have a Serbian standing for Liverpool council and we wish him all the best.

The Serbian nation, as I said, has been through a very difficult period of time. Although we greatly welcome this motion, one thing that is raised with me by many Serbian people is that they were disappointed with an earlier motion brought to this parliament with regard to Srebrenica. We hope that all people of Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia and the Balkan regions can put those differences behind them, move on and realise that there were crimes and atrocities committed by both sides. No one side was completely guilty; no one side was completely innocent. It was a very difficult war. Rather than continue to bring up in this parliament things like the Srebrenica events, it would be far better to put those events behind us and look forward to the future where all people from the Balkan regions can move together, integrate as part of the European Union and be a vital part of our world economy.

Again, congratulations to Ambassador Maletic. I hope that you are here for many more years. I hope that you continue your good work and that the Serbian community here in Australia continue the great work that they have done in integrating in our society and making a valuable contribution.