House of Representatives Speech- Iraq and Syria 2014

Australia's involvement in Iraq should be defined and conducted with humanitarian protection as its primary and overwhelming objective. There is no doubt of the depth of the humanitarian crisis that is occurring now in Iraq. In Iraq 1.8 million people have been internally displaced and hundreds of thousands are in need of humanitarian assistance. The situation in Syria is also dire: 6.5 million Syrians are internally displaced and 10 million need humanitarian support.

Australia's involvement in Iraq should be defined and conducted with humanitarian protection as its primary and overwhelming objective. There is no doubt of the depth of the humanitarian crisis that is occurring now in Iraq. In Iraq 1.8 million people have been internally displaced and hundreds of thousands are in need of humanitarian assistance. The situation in Syria is also dire: 6.5 million Syrians are internally displaced and 10 million need humanitarian support.

The context for what has been said in debate on this motion should be, however, to recognise that the Abbott government cut $7.6 billion from foreign aid in this year's budget. The budget cuts to aid come on top of the $8.4 billion reduction caused by abandoning the commitment that our aid budget would reach 0.5 per cent of GNI—a commitment originally made by John Howard and which Mr Abbott promised to keep as late as December last year. The effect of these cuts in Iraq meant that our country program went from $7.7 million to zero in this year's budget. To look internationally, we should note that the United Nations called for $6.5 billion in aid for the Syria crisis—the largest ever appeal for funds. Australia under the coalition has pledged us $30 million or so in aid: a sadly inadequate response to an enormous humanitarian need. Labor in government pledged over $100 million in aid to the crisis in Syria.

I was left in no doubt as to the extent of the crisis caused by the Syrian conflict. I met recently with the president of the Jordan National Red Crescent Society, Dr Mohammed Al-Hadid, who told me of the difficulties that Jordan is facing with more than 1.4 million refugees from Syria now living in Jordan. Labor calls on the government to substantially increase Australia's contributions to the United Nations and to relief organisations which are delivering humanitarian assistance in Syria and in Iraq. This should include increased support to UN agencies that are operating in the neighbouring countries, including Jordan and Lebanon, which have so far borne the majority of the burden of displaced Syrians, with insufficient international assistance. As I have said, Australia thus far has contributed only $30 million or so to the Syrian crisis. Based on the size of our economy, Oxfam has calculated that our fair share of this international fundraising effort would be in the order of $117 million—and just by way of comparison, looking at other international contributors: Denmark has managed to contribute 163 per cent of its fair share, and the UK has given 141 per cent of what would be its fair share.

This is the consequence of the kinds of cuts to foreign aid that have been made by the Abbott government in this budget. It leaves Australia unable to contribute at the same level at which other countries have found themselves able to contribute. It leaves Australia are unable to do our fair share—as we should, as one of the wealthy countries of the world—in repairing the damage and in trying to assist in what is undoubtedly a very deep humanitarian crisis now unfolding in the Middle East. Again, you could point to the fact that on 12 September, the United States announced a further commitment of $500 million to Syria and to regional countries involved in supporting Syrians displaced by the violence. We have seen the United States also contributing a further $48 million in humanitarian assistance to respond to the crisis in Iraq, bringing the total funding in 2014 from the United States for Iraq to more than $186 million dollars, and all of this additional funding is going to go to supporting humanitarian needs including the preparation for winter.

There is also a role for Australia through our refugee and humanitarian migration program. We have had an announcement from the coalition government, back in August, of some 4,400 places for Iraqis and Syrians fleeing violence and persecution but, regrettably, these places are not an overall increase to Australian's humanitarian intake but will apparently be part of the existing 13,750 places allocated annually under the program.