Speech in Australian Parliament by Michelle Rowland MP

MICHELLE ROWLAND MP
SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM
SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS
MEMBER FOR GREENWAY
 
RECONCILIATION IN SRI LANKA
 
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, PARLIAMENT HOUSE
 
THURSDAY, 16 OCTOBER 2015
 
*** CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY ***
 
I rise today to reaffirm my heartfelt support for the determined efforts of the international community and the many people of goodwill in Sri Lanka to usher in an era of progress and reconciliation in that country. Since I was elected, in 2010, I have been on the record advocating for the cause of human rights for all Sri Lankans, as well as for the need for strong action to account for the terrible consequences of that nation's decades-long civil war, from all sides of that bloody conflict.
 
The recent session of the United Nations Human Rights Council has given voice to this objective through a landmark resolution that underlines the critical importance of truth and accountability for everyone affected by the 25-year armed conflict. The resolution follows the release of the report on the war by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, which details credible allegations of serious and gross human rights violations by all parties to the conflict, and calls for the establishment of a hybrid justice process, with representatives from both Sri Lanka and the international community, to investigate and deal with these allegations. Both the report and the resolution present a unique and historic opportunity for Sri Lanka to address some of the most troubling chapters of its past and provide an important foundation for a just and lasting peace in a nation that for too long has seen war and discord rob it of its industry and its development, and far too many of its sons and daughters.
 
Now that a framework has been established to provide basic rights of equality and justice to all Sri Lankans, the work of implementing it and constructing a durable peace must commence. We know that a difficult road lies ahead. Indeed, to state the task is to underline the enormity of the challenge.
 
Behind the nation's tensions lies a centuries-old stalemate, entrenched by intense feelings of mistrust and hostility and the most profound allegiance to cultural identity. Yet, the widespread endorsement of the UN documents throughout all sectors of the Sri Lankan community reflects a shared yearning for reconciliation and a new beginning. Indeed, in this year alone the people of Sri Lanka have twice voted to make a decisive break with the past and embrace genuine and inclusive democracy. They have courageously chosen dialogue over division, healing over hatred, and have charted a course towards peace and prosperity for its people.
 
While much work remains to be done, the new Sri Lankan government's decision to co-sponsor the UN resolution signals its commitment to launch a brighter future for its people. It sends an unequivocal message to those persons who brought such terrible human suffering that they will be held accountable for their crimes.
My electorate of Greenway comprises nearly 5 per cent of the entire Sri Lankan population in Australia, and I have seen first-hand the devastating effect this conflict has wrought. I know constituents who have grown up in a web of fear and animosity, through no fault of their own. They have been left forever scarred by unwarranted violence and persecution, in a physical as well as psychological sense. Their parents and loved ones have suffered and died tragically as a direct result of the conflict. There are also those who were forced to remain behind, facing an uncertain future.
In Australia, these people found a life of peace and security that they would never have been able to lead previously. In turn, they have contributed greatly to the prosperity of our community and our nation as a whole. As a nation that shares a deep and long-standing bond with the people of Sri Lanka, we owe it to them to seize this unprecedented opportunity.
 
I note that Australia, rightly, was a co-sponsor of the UN resolution on this issue, something for which I advocated in this place. However, I strongly believe we must use all our influence to back up those words with deeds. In this chamber we represent a wide array of views yet we are all united in our commitment to stand with people who yearn for the same freedoms, values and opportunities that we as a society cherish.
 
We must therefore become true partners in progress with the people of Sri Lanka and actively work for a day when all its citizens, including minorities, can participate in a robust democracy where divergent viewpoints invoke passionate debate and, yes, disagreement, but where these clashes are played out in the theatre of parliament rather than in the futile theatre of war; a day when the families of the some 150,000 people who remain unaccounted for are given closure through an impartial process; a day when war savaged areas are transformed into vibrant towns and cities booming with jobs, investment and a prosperous citizenry; a day when every person forced to flee the land of their birth can finally return if they so choose, imbued with a sense of belonging and acceptance. Indeed, fostering the human capital of Sri Lanka, with all its diversity and skills, will be essential for its social and economic develop. We must work for a day when every Sri Lankan child can look forward to a future where they are free to pursue their dreams and explore their potential.
 
Finally, I very much look forward to being received by the Sri Lankan High Commissioner in Canberra next week, and to developing a strong relationship to further these very ends.