Sri Lanka

Monday, 05 September 2022

Mr HAWKE (Mitchell) (12:45): I welcome the opportunity to support the member for La Trobe on this important motion that the Australian parliament recognise what Sri Lanka has been going through in recent times, since the COVID-19 pandemic. I join my friends, the member for La Trobe and the member for Bruce, in speaking about the importance, after 75 years, of this relationship between Australia and Sri Lanka not just in managing our maritime borders and managing people smuggling but in our economic and people-to-people links which have led to a big diaspora in our major cities of people who have come from Sri Lanka and made Australia their home. And they've been very successful at it, I must say. They are skilled and successful migrants who have turned themselves into great Australians.

We're all devastated to see what has happened to Sri Lanka. It has salient lessons for all countries around the world following the COVID-19 pandemic. It isn't automatic that a country will emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic better, stronger or as well placed as some have. There were real consequences for an economy like Sri Lanka's in terms of turning off tourism, turning off expat dollars coming into the country and turning off important things like access to cheap fuel to power their power plants. It's a salient lesson for governments everywhere, including here, about what happens when you deliberately increase the price of power, power generation, fuel, fuel generation and the basics of living, such as food. What we saw in Sri Lanka, of course, is that, when a government fails in this department of the basic costs of living—the cost of power, the cost of fuel and the cost of food—it leads to revolution because people can't afford to eat and they can't afford the basics. We all lament what has happened in Sri Lanka, but we must observe the lessons of the failure of the government. I know that Australia will take those lessons on board as well.

No country is immune from these challenges in this era, and we see the countries of Europe facing the same problems with the cost of power and the cost of power generation, and the impacts that that will have on the basic standard of living of populations. So, as the opposition, we ask the Australian government to do whatever it can to help our Sri Lankan partners. We welcome Sri Lanka's move to approach the International Monetary Fund and secure that vital loan to make sure that they can sustain their debt—a very serious debt now, which has hit about 79 per cent of GDP—pay that debt, and not be in debt to countries that seek to take advantage of these situations.

Australia, of course, is a good partner in all of these situations. We will help Sri Lanka with our development dollars. We'll help Sri Lanka as friends and partners and neighbours in our region, and, of course, we won't be seeking a return on that help, other than their success, prosperity and stability. We'll continue to urge the Australian government to do that from the opposition benches. But we have seen with concern, reports that China—who has put itself in a debtor position to Sri Lanka—has asked, instead of payment, to own the resources and the resource generating mechanisms of the country of Sri Lanka while they are in financial crisis and debt. We, of course, urge China to be a good international partner and not to take advantage of countries who fall into economic hard times. We ask them to be the right neighbours that they ought to be to countries in their region and to make sure that they do not seek advantage at the expense of the Sri Lankan people.

So we welcome the International Monetary Fund lending money to secure the future of Sri Lanka. It's the right deal. It will mean that Sri Lanka will be able to make its payments, get back on its feet, get its tourism economy going, get its expats financing money again, and, of course, restore the great skills and success that we've seen from the migration population that has come to Australia from Sri Lanka. It's a very successful country and it can get back on its feet again, with good government, with stable government and with government fixed on lowering the cost of living for its population. The Australian government ought to do as much as we can do during this economic crisis. We have been supportive. We need to continue to be supportive. I know that the diaspora here in Australia is doing everything it can to support Sri Lanka and make sure that those expat dollars go back home and stabilise the situation.

We want a strong and sovereign Sri Lanka. We want our friend and partner back on its feet again, succeeding for its population; feeding itself as it always has; succeeding economically; and providing such great, skilled and successful people as it has to the world. Sri Lanka exports so many great products to Australia and around the world. It is a very successful place. It's fallen into a hole. A lot of it has come from COVID. A lot of it has come from some bad decisions. We know Sri Lanka will get back on its feet again. Australia supports Sri Lanka, we support Sri Lanka, and we ask the Australian government to do everything they can to support our good friends and neighbours in Sri Lanka.