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Monday, 24 March 2014
Page: 2925

Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (11:20): I rise in support of the resolution. At the outset, while I think we all recognise that we might have different opinions, these resolutions are extraordinarily hard. They are hard on two counts: one is that, of themselves, dealing with the matters at the heart of this is very tough because of what has been felt and experienced by people, particularly in Sri Lanka. The other element that makes this difficult for Australians broadly is to appreciate that we have savoured and long protected a climate of peace and it is difficult to reconcile in our own minds those events that happened in other parts of the globe that we would never imagine and would never want to have visited on us here in this nation.

However, they do happen, and Australia has played a role in times past—a very productive role—in being able to be promoters of peace, not just by word but by deed. I think our principal role has been helping in our region—for example, Cambodia, at the tail end of its time of terrible things occurring within its boundaries. We were able to play a very important role in bringing peace there, and we should be looking to do likewise using our role here in being able to achieve that.

Australia has a lot to be proud of when you look at the fact that we have been able to become home after World War II to seven million new citizens, some of whom have been drawn from parts of the world that have been bedevilled by conflict, and have been able to make a country that others look and aspire to in terms of being able to create much more harmonious relationships within borders.

While some may not necessarily agree that we should involve ourselves in these matters, I think, as I have said, that it is important to do so. I have a community that is largely built from people of a Tamil background, who I am proud to call friends. I also have a lot of Sinhalese in my community, and they likewise feel very strongly about this as well. There have been, as has been acknowledged, terrible acts committed in Sri Lanka, and while they have occurred through the path of this conflict over many years I think a lot of people recognise that the Tamils bore a huge load of pain at the tail end of the conflict in 2009.

While there have been a lot of divisions that have held Sri Lanka back from being what it could be as a nation, I think the unity that does exist for the common ground is that people recognise that those on either side who strayed beyond the boundaries of what would be considered humanity should feel the arm of justice reach them, and that they are held accountable for terrible acts. That is what needs to happen.

We cannot see Sri Lanka become the country it can be and we cannot find a way to combine the ambitions of both Sinhalese and Tamils without finding a way to hold accountable those who went beyond what would be considered humane. In many ways that is why we have had the UN focus, to try to encourage that justice to occur. Justice should not be viewed as a vehicle for vengeance, because it will ultimately fail if it is that. But, as I said, justice is important if we want to combine the ambitions of the Sinhalese and the Tamils to build something that all Sri Lankans can be proud of in their country.

And so in 2012 and 2013 we have had Australia supporting Human Rights Council resolutions that have urged the government of Sri Lanka to adopt the findings and recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission of Sri Lanka—principally to highlight the need to investigate credibly allegations of extrajudicial killings and disappearances, calling for demilitarisation of the north and finding ways to resolve, amongst other things, land disputes. These things are critical if we are to see people being able to join concretely and ensure that Sri Lanka can move ahead and prosper.

If there are elements of doubt about what has occurred and those ill feelings that exist and continue to exist amongst both sides, but particularly those terrible things that were visited upon the Tamils, Sri Lanka cannot conceivably believe that improvements to physical infrastructure alone, for example, can bring people together. What will bring people together is being able to have a sense that those who committed wrong have been brought to justice, an acknowledgement of that hurt and a commitment to work together to ensure that Sri Lanka can move forward concretely.