Mr HUSIC (Chifley) (22:20): Last Sunday I had the pleasure of attending a special ceremony at Blacktown’s Bowman Hall marking the 20th anniversary of the founding of the Catholic Association of Sydney Tamils. The association is headed up by President Ansalm Jehenthiran and Secretary Seles Guraratnam. I was invited to the evening by someone I have great regard for within the community, Mr John Niven. The evening drew massive support from Tamil Australians. They were joined by a number of special guests including the Bishop of Parramatta the Most Reverend Anthony Fisher; Father Vincent Savarimuthu; the secretary of Sub Continent Friends of Labor, Harish Velji; New South Wales Opposition Leader and member for Blacktown, John Robertson; and someone who has been such a passionate and energetic supporter of Tamil Australians, the member for Toongabbie, Nathan Rees.
The Catholic Association of Sydney Tamils has quietly attended to the welfare and wellbeing of newly arrived Tamils. The work is hard, trying and emotionally challenging. To maintain that level of support and effort over 20 years is simply a triumph. By the accounts detailed on the night and judging by the support present, it is clear the association’s work is held in deep regard. But I would also imagine the work is valued and welcomed by those families who have, in desperate circumstances, sought to start a new life in a more peaceful environment than the one they fled—something we should be mindful of in this special week, Refugee Week.
Many Tamil families have settled in Western Sydney, particularly in the electorates of Chifley and Greenway. I have had the opportunity to meet with a range of community groups who aim to enhance the welfare of Tamil Australians. The work done by the Australian Tamil Congress in bringing awareness about issues concerning the Tamil community in Australia, in particular the suffering and injustices faced by their loved ones in their homeland, is exceptionally important. I have appreciated working with their members and I especially thank Varuni Balachandar. I was grateful for Varuni’s invitation to attend photographer Shelley Morris’ exhibition ‘Sounds of Silence’ held here and organised by the Australian Tamil Congress. These unique initiatives help in opening the eyes of the wider community to issues close to the Tamil community.
I have also welcomed the considered and thoughtful insights provided to me by Mr Siva Sivasubramanium and Dr Mano Mohan from the Australian Tamil Electoral Lobby. In meetings I have had with the group, I have recognised the studied and intelligent approach they apply to issues of concern to their community. They are such strong, tireless representatives and I would like to record my thanks for their assistance and advice.
While in this place we as representatives seek to advance and promote the interests of the electorates we serve, it is incumbent upon us to consider and alleviate the plight of those in terrible situations. While much is made of the fact that a fierce conflict within Sri Lanka has abated, there are still civilians—men, women and children—who continue to suffer. Many remain stuck in internment camps. If they emerge from the camps, the opportunities they have to rebuild their lives are sparse and constrained. There is a critical need to support Tamil resettlement within Sri Lanka. Through AusAID we should extend whatever assistance we can to ensure that peace in Sri Lanka is made more durable through a fair, equitable spread of resources to enable a smoother, faster resettlement process. But besides a desire to improve material conditions, there is another pressing need. We cannot expect people who have been mired in embittered conflict to reconcile without achieving justice for those who have suffered atrocities, who have been victims of war crimes. The United Nations has been hampered in its efforts to conduct a thorough investigation into this matter and I urge the Australian government to continue to support calls for those responsible to be brought to justice and to ensure that those who have suffered can savour true peace.
On an unrelated note may I also take this time to commend the work of some other people within the Chifley electorate who are committed to seeing change and improvement in the lives of those less fortunate. The Blacktown Fairtrade Working Group was set up last year by some young, dynamic local residents who are passionate supporters of Fairtrade, the movement that is pushing to see companies maintain decent working conditions, promote local sustainability and fair terms of trade for farmers and workers in the developing world. I would particularly like to recognise Rooty Hill resident Patricia Kumar for her strong advocacy and tireless effort in encouraging other locals to support Fairtrade. As a result of her lobbying, I signed my office up to the Fairtrade pledge, to ensure we use products that meet the Fairtrade accreditation standards. Congratulations to Patricia for her considerate work.