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Wednesday, 5 March 2014
Page: 1810

Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (10:07): When former Prime Minister Rudd was in Belgrade at the NATO summit in 2008 I was in Kiev, probably the only Australian parliamentarian ever to have visited the Ukrainian parliament. I stood with my friend Brian Mellzer on the outskirts of Kiev at the terrible place known as Babi Yar, where 100,000 Jewish citizens of the USSR were murdered by the SS Einsatzkommandos. I have had a longstanding interest in Ukraine, having great Ukrainian friends such as Senator Catryna Bilyk, in this parliament. We have moved resolutions supported previously by this entire parliament on the terrible famine that took place under Stalin in the 1930s in Ukraine, when six million poor Ukrainians died.

But our focus is on recent events in Ukraine, particularly the recent economic history that led to the current situation. Ukraine is effectively an oligarchy, where much of the wealth is in the hands of people who could fit into one elevator. The son of the President of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, suddenly became one of the wealthiest men in Europe. Tens of billions of dollars disappeared from state budgets. But if a leader steals so much that the state goes bankrupt then the leader's power is diminished, according to Mr Tim Snyder of the New York Review of Books. That is what caused a large part of the recent problem. Struggling to pay Ukraine's debts last year, the Ukrainian leader had two options acording to Snyder:

The first was to begin trade cooperation with the European Union. No doubt an association agreement with the EU would have opened the way for loans, but it also would have meant the risk of the application of the rule of law within Ukraine.

That is because the Europeans do not give their loans without caveats. The alternative was to take money from another authoritarian regime, Russia. That is what happened. In December last year, Mr Putin, with all the money acquired from the sale of hydrocarbons, offered a loan of $15 billion. Ukrainians went into the streets to object to the fact that their country was being turned away from Europe, from modernity and the rule of law.

We all know the events that took place in the streets of Ukraine. On 20 February, the key event happened. An EU delegation was due to negotiate a truce. The riot police fell back from the square called Maidan, or Euromaidan, in the middle of Kiev. Protesters were followed and shot; 70 of them were shot by snipers. That was a terrible event. I think Australia should take an important role by opening an embassy in Kiev. It is a country of 50 million people. We are a big, strong country and we should have representation there. That would be a good way of associating ourselves with the democratic views of the people in Ukraine.