SPEECH - Statement on Ukraine

  • Speech

I am very honoured to be able to stand this evening to make a brief contribution with regard to the war against Ukraine. I think most of us in Australia were horrified to wake to the news of a Russian invasion that was, by all accounts, unprovoked and, indeed, unjustified. I found myself, for that first week or so, really glued to my devices, trying to follow everything that was happening in Ukraine and trying to understand something of what the Ukrainian people were going through. As is always the case in wars, there are thousands, if not millions, of innocent civilians—men, women and children. They are people we would have as part of our families, in our workplaces and in our neighbourhoods. They bear the brunt of the sheer brutality of war. This is the case in all wars and it is part of why war remains a reckless and senseless course of action.

It was my privilege to host the Leader of the Australian Labor Party, Anthony Albanese, when he visited the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Broadmeadow, just outside the city of Newcastle. Anthony Albanese and I lit a candle in solidarity with not only the Ukrainian community of the Ukraine Catholic Church in Newcastle but also with the Ukrainian-Australian community everywhere and those in Ukraine who were being subjected to horrific acts of violence.

As colleagues have said, Australia is united; we are united in this parliament, in our communities and in our condemnation of Vladimir Putin's unjustified and unprovoked attack on Ukraine. I think there are many who might have been surprised by the sustained efforts of the Ukrainian people, but I can assure you that when the Leader of the Labor Party and I spoke to members of the Ukrainian Catholic Church in Newcastle it was abundantly clear how determined the Ukrainian people were to defend their homelands, protect their peoples and stand against a senseless act of aggression.

Stories from people like Stefania in my electorate, who I met at the church, were truly heartbreaking. Stefania is a 96-year-old woman. She fled Ukraine from the Germans and Russians after World War II, and today her community has witnessed another generation of Ukrainians who are bravely defending their country again. I met with many members of the Ukrainian community on that day who were fiercely proud of their families back in Ukraine when they learnt of the role that they were playing to defend their country. When I heard the national anthem being sung in the church, I could feel, with every fibre in my body, the pride and determination of a group of people who have been to hell and back before and truly wish that this newer generation of family were not having to experience this. But, sadly for many Ukrainian people, especially those here in Australia who fled after World War II, this is a very familiar experience, one that cuts very deeply within their living memories.

This is a lived experience for people like Stefania and people of her generation who fled a savage, war-torn Europe to find safety for themselves and their families. Without a doubt, they were urging decision makers in this parliament and parliaments across the globe to stand in solidarity with Ukraine at this hour of need. We should absolutely be doing everything we can to secure peace and ensure that it prevails in Ukraine.

President Zelenskyy will address this parliament tomorrow. I'm sure that will be a very moving moment for the Australian parliament. He has already addressed the parliaments of the United States, the European Union and the UK. It is fitting that we join the list of parliaments that he has addressed directly. We will learn firsthand of the situation and the needs of the Ukrainian people.

I want to thank Father Paul Berezniuk in Newcastle, the father at the Ukrainian Catholic Church, for hosting me and the Leader of the Australian Labor Party for what was a very moving service, and for the heartfelt and heartbreaking conversations that we had with the congregation. I would also like to acknowledge Wolodymyr Motyka, the gentleman who has really been the spokesperson for the Ukrainian community in Newcastle. He has handled much of the media inquiries and done a lot of the public outward facing work.

I would also like to acknowledge a recent visit from a delegation from Amnesty International and the pain that Inna Proshkivska made very clear when she, as a young Ukrainian woman herself, tried to explain what was happening back in her home country, the devastation that people were feeling. The reports of indiscriminate bombardment that are occurring are offensive. Anybody who has respect for international law and order and who wishes to see world peace would be grossly offended by the indiscriminate bombardment that is taking place in Ukraine. It is estimated that the damage done to Ukraine is already worth in excess of US$100 billion. That is really incomprehensible, I expect, for most members of the Australian community.

But I do wish to go back to an issue that the young Ukrainian woman, Inna, raised when she came to visit me with the Amnesty International delegation. It was deeply traumatic for her to have to relive these stories. She said that, whilst announcements from the Australian government last week concerning the temporary visas being offered to Ukraine in addition to the humanitarian program are absolutely welcome, there needs to be a more concerted effort from us so that the people on the ground in Europe know there is an option—not just the humanitarian program but also some temporary visas. She stressed that many people who are leaving Ukraine have nothing but the clothes on their backs, so being able to purchase an aeroplane ticket to Australia might not be possible for everybody. She wanted to ensure that people from Ukraine who want to come to Australia have that opportunity. So we might need chartered flights or offers to get people here—as well as the assurance that they will be assisted when they arrive, including pathways to permanency where that is desired.

I thank the House for enabling me to make this contribution today. Thank you very much.

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