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Tuesday, 8 August 2006
Page: 1

Mr BEAZLEY (Leader of the Opposition) (2:02 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to the fact that the United Nations flash appeal is urgently seeking $US150 million to provide food, water and medical supplies to the people of Lebanon. I also refer to the fact that the appeal is currently undersubscribed by $81 million. Given that the government of Lebanon is facing a humanitarian disaster, with up to 25 per cent of its population displaced, and given that Australia is home to one of the largest Lebanese expatriate groups in the world, will the Prime Minister now agree to increase aid to the people of Lebanon?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the Leader of the Opposition for that question. As I think he will know, the government has already given some $5 million. We will consider adding to that. It is true that Australia has a very significant population of people of Lebanese descent. Let me take this opportunity to record my, the government’s and, I think, the Australian people’s immense respect for the work of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in arranging for the withdrawal from Lebanon of something in the order of 5,000 Australian citizens. To the best of my knowledge, not one death or injury has been occasioned to an Australian citizen for want, in reasonable terms, of a speedier facilitation. I think it is a remarkable effort and it does rather fly in the face of some very foolish things that were said at the beginning of this by a number of those opposite and a number of spokesmen for the Lebanese community in Australia.

Let me say that Lebanese Australians almost without exception as they have returned to this country have expressed their gratitude to the Australian government and their gratitude to the Australian ambassador in Beirut, Lyndall Sachs, which I also record—and I had the opportunity of talking to her directly—who has done a first-class job in very difficult circumstances. Sometimes self-appointed community spokesmen ought to bear in mind that when ambassadors and embassy staff in these situations try to help Australians overseas they risk their lives in doing so. The ambassador remains in the danger of Beirut. The ambassador is staying at her post. She is doing her job on behalf of the Australian people and I take this opportunity on behalf, I hope, of all members of the House to express my great gratitude and admiration for her in the job she has done. The Minister for Foreign Affairs and his department have done a superb job in safely evacuating 5,000 Australians and some of those people who criticise him, including the Leader of the Opposition, ought to eat their words.