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Monday, 20 August 2012
Page: 9265

Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (13:27): To my constituents of Serbian origin and to the ambassador I say: dobar dan. I welcome the opportunity to speak today about a country that has over the last number of decades changed, advanced and developed immensely. I had an opportunity to visit Serbia in 1985 and experienced firsthand the lively capital city of Belgrade and its surrounds, Avala, Sava River Island and even visited Marshal Tito's tomb. Coming from Australia at that time, when the shops closed at midday on Saturday, to a city where the shops remained open until 10 pm was quite an experience. There are well over 100,000 people of Serbian origin currently living in Australia. A number of my constituents are from Serbia, or are of Serbian origin, arriving in Australia from all parts of Eastern Europe, including Croatia and Bosnia.

Serbia has recently undergone changes that have helped see the country progress. Under the former president, Boris Tadic, Serbia applied for European Union membership in 2009. The European Commission delivered its opinion on the application in October 2011, and early this year Serbia was accepted as an official European Union candidate. While European Union membership is yet to be officially awarded to Serbia, once achieved it will provide the country with a voice in interstate decision making and will continue the cooperation initiated in December 2009 with the abolishment of visa requirements for Serbian passport holders wishing to travel to existing EU member states. This move is a positive step forward for a country that has been greatly damaged by war.

A significant number of Serbians came to Australia during the 1990s from the then Yugoslavia; and while respecting and taking on the Australian way of life, they, nevertheless have kept their traditions, customs and values alive. The most prominent Western Australian Serbian community landmarks include the two churches in North Perth. Every year on 7 January they are filled by hundreds of people for the Orthodox Christmas. Two other landmarks in Western Australian include the Serbian Community Centre in Maddington and the home of Dianella White Eagles, formed in 1978 under the name of Dianella Serbia.

Serbia's rich and extensive culture has contributed to our nation by expanding on the existing multicultural traits that our nation is built on. Apart from contributions such as food and cuisine, which are enjoyed by many, there are a number of Serbians who are well known in Australia and worldwide. Although we cannot claim him for Australia, in the sporting arena perhaps the best known Serb is tennis great Novak Djokovic. In Australia we should also acknowledge Australians of Serbian origin such as national soccer team players Milan Ivanovic and Milan Blagojevic. There are also well-known media personalities of Serbian origin such as Karl Stefanovic of the Today program, and how can we forget media personality and Australian 'lambassador' Sam Kekovich.

In the light of improving relations between Serbia and Australia, the Australian Federal Police and the Serbian police have signed an MOU with the aim of working together closely to combat transnational crime. While the MOU is the first formal agreement between the two countries, it does represent a continuation of the longstanding, solid relations established with Serbia during postwar years.

There has been a tendency by some in this country to malign Serbia and those of Serbian heritage for what happened in the civil wars and with Kosovo. I would suggest that there is always more than one side to a story and one should always be very careful in taking a populist view on such issues. Before one criticises Serbia and Serbs, prior to making any form of judgement they should research history and the actions of all sides.

In conclusion, I thank the member for Fowler for putting this motion forward. A number of Cowan constituents are originally from Serbia or are of such descent. One of my staff members is of Serbian origin; a refugee from the wars. Serbs in my area form a significant part of the electorate community, and I wish to take this opportunity to thank them for their positive contribution and for working with me as their federal representative in making Cowan such a great place to live and work. With those constituents, I look forward to an ever increasing and strengthening relationship between Australia and Serbia in the future.

Sitting suspended from 13:32 to 16:01