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Monday, 9 February 2015
Page: 26

Mr CRAIG KELLY (Hughes) (11:24): I am pleased to speak on this motion and I join the comments of the members for Fowler, Fremantle, Kingsford Smith, Berowra and Brisbane.

When we think of Syria and the situation on the ground today, perhaps the place to go back and start is December 2010, the start of the then so-called Arab Spring, where there was so much hope that countries in the Middle East, that had been ruled by dictators for decades, would finally have democratic governments, would finally have governments where all people, regardless of their religion, would have opportunity. But we look today, four years on from the start of the Arab Spring, and we see the situation has actually gone from bad to worse. Almost in every country there have been humanitarian and economic disasters. If you look at the case of Syria, even since this motion was tabled the figures and statistics have gotten worse. Only last week, a humanitarian organisation in Syria, Al-Marsad, reported that there have been 210,000 people killed since the war broke out in 2011. Additionally to that, two million people have been injured, and 1.5 million have been left disabled in some way. For children, they quote the number of 10,664 killed, and 6,783 for women.

Also, foreign fighters are attracted to the country. Almost 25,000 non-Syrians have been killed in the civil war, including 640 belonging to Hezbollah. Our lessons to be learnt from this humanitarian tragedy include how fragile democracy is and how difficult it is to take root. Countries cannot just go from dictator to a democracy overnight. That is through the history of almost every democratic nation throughout the world, even our own country Australia. Before we became the Australian nation at the turn of the previous century, we had the benefit of a hundred years of British colonial rule to establish those roots and those institutions embedded in our society that enabled our democracy to thrive, prosper and grow. So to think that these democratic roots could establish in the Middle East almost overnight and that those countries could become peaceful was folly of the highest extent.

One of the great tragedies that has happened in Syria is what is happening to their Christian population. We know that before the war they were something like 10 per cent of the Syrian population, but on some figures almost 700,000 Christians have left that country—some 40 per cent of the pre-war number. I would also like to add that I have some grave reservations about some of the policies of the United States in relation to Syria. The idea of arming or financing the so-called moderate rebels is a policy that needs serious questioning and serious thinking through, for arming so-called moderates can often only be seen as throwing petrol onto the fire.

The Australian government has not been still in this. So far we have provided almost $70 million in response to the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East since 2014. We have contributed $135 million into humanitarian assistance in response to the Syrian crisis since this conflict began. That includes a total of $35 million in 2014. We have also provided funding for food, water, shelter, protection, medical assistance and education inside Syria, and over the next three years Australia will resettle 4,500 refugees. We can do what we can, but ultimately this humanitarian disaster must be solved by the Syrian people.

Debate adjourned.