Like many other members of this parliament, indeed many members of the international community, I welcome the end of decades of conflict in Sri Lanka. In my electorate there are a number of residents of Sri Lankan origin, of both Tamil and Sinhalese background, who have told me about the shocking effects that protracted conflict has had on both sides.
Sri Lankans who have chosen to make Australia their home have, of course, built vibrant communities here. In my electorate the Eastwood Tamil Study Centre has drawn together Tamil-speaking young people and their families for over 20 years. These communities are full of hard-working individuals, many of them professionals, and I note a particularly strong representation in the medical profession.
Members of both the Tamil and Sinhalese communities have shared with me their understandable concerns about the plight of those in their homeland. The Australian government has stated repeatedly that the time has come for the Sri Lankan government to win the peace by forging an enduring political settlement for all Sri Lankans. But, of course, recent events, including the arrest of opposition presidential candidate General Fonseca, are not encouraging. The Australian government is also aware of reports regarding threats against Sri Lankan journalists, including those working for government owned newspapers and television corporations. As the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Stephen Smith, has said, Australia’s belief is that Sri Lankan democracy, rule of law and security would be enhanced by a strong civil society and an independent and free media.
While there has been some recent progress in resettling internally displaced citizens, the humanitarian challenges facing Sri Lanka are intense. The government has consistently stated, both during the conflict and since, that the welfare and protection of civilians must be the absolute priority. As a friend of Sri Lanka and Sri Lankan people, Australia continues to offer its assistance. In November last year the Australian government committed $11 million to support resettlement, and that brings the total humanitarian assistance to date to $49 million. To date, more than 160,000 people have been voluntarily resettled into their districts of origin. But unfortunately, that means that more than 100,000 people remain displaced across 15 camps in Sri Lanka. These are predominantly Tamil people, but prior to the end of the civil war both Sinhalese and Muslim people were also displaced by the fighting.
The Australian government continues to encourage the Sri Lankan government to proceed with voluntary settlement. In the interim, Australia has consistently supported the improvement of camp conditions. We continue to work with Sri Lanka towards social and political reconciliation and the reform and economic restoration of a prosperous, secure and peaceful future for all the people of Sri Lanka.