I am pleased to support the motion moved by the member for McMahon. Iraq has gone from tragedy to tragedy over the past decade. We all know the horrors that have befallen the Assyrian, Chaldean, Mandean, Coptic and Yazidi people.
When friends and relatives of Australians are being persecuted in their homeland in such terrible circumstances, these Australians deserve a voice in this parliament. I congratulate the member for McMahon for moving this motion and for his long-term commitment to advancing the rights of people in our community.
I am blessed with a very active and passionate Assyrian and Chaldean community in Kingsford Smith. These great Australians value education, are community minded and are the great philanthropists of our area. Last week I was pleased to join members of the Assyrian community, who met outside this parliament to raise their voice against the tragedy unfolding in Iraq. Thousands more around the world have rallied to protest. I want to let the Assyrian and Chaldean community in my local area know that your voice in this place is being heard.
In Detroit, Chicago and San Francisco in the USA, and around the world, the Assyrian diaspora are standing up and people are hearing you. There are around two million Assyrians throughout the world and your voice is giving hope to the 200,000 people displaced from their homes in Mosul and Nineveh Plain. The religious persecution in Iraq has seen some of the most vibrant Middle East Christian communities almost wiped out—forced into religious conversion and, as we have seen, driven from their homes or murdered. We know that 20,000 Assyrians lived in Mosul before ISIS took control of the city. They had a deadline of one week to leave or to convert. We know ISIS will never stop until they have displaced every person they see as an enemy. I want to quote from Mardean Isaac, a British-Assyrian novelist, who says:
The life of indigenous Mesopotamians in their hereditary habitat is irreplaceable. Villages and towns that hold the presence of time and extend rituals and ways of life passed down through generations; the vernacular richness of spoken Aramaic dialects born of shared experiences in the same places; and a disappearing architectural legacy—this living history, the very source of its own future, is at stake. The tragedy of this loss would never be lifted from the conscience of the world.
That perfectly represents what is occurring, unfortunately, at this time in their homeland. As they say, a tragedy would befall the world were this to come to pass.
ISIS is engaged in crimes against humanity on a massive scale. I am proud to say that federal Labor backs calls by Australian representatives of the Iraqi Assyrian and Chaldean Christian communities for the government to help alleviate the suffering of the humanitarian disaster in northern Iraq. The community and church leaders have called on the government to support proposals to establish an autonomous region in the Nineveh Plains, to increase humanitarian refugees from the region and to increase Australian humanitarian aid.
I am also proud to say that federal Labor welcomes the decision by the Iraqi government to support in principle the creation of an autonomous region in the Nineveh Plains. We are hopeful that the new government soon to be formed in Iraq will find ways to ensure security and autonomy for minority religious groups.
We welcome the decision of the Australian government to provide $5 million in emergency humanitarian aid for those fleeing ISIS. We call on the Australian government to use its position on the United Nations Security Council to push for greater assistance for Christian minorities facing persecution in this area. We welcome the government's decision to allocate 4,400 existing refugee places to people from Iraq and Syria, but we regret the Abbot government cutting the humanitarian refugee intake from 20,000 to 13,000. There should be more than this 4,400 available but, unfortunately, because of this cut, that is not the case at this time. I am pleased to support and to congratulate the member for McMahon for moving this motion.